The New Zealand cricketers who had left home in April this year would naturally be longing to return with their newfound image in tact. This Wednesday, New Delhi will be the venue and India will be the rival for the last game of their long twin tour of England and India.
New Zealand did exceptionally well to make the semi-finals of the World Cup 1999. Then it handed out a 2-1 defeat to England in the Test Series that followed the World Cup. They came to India and performed reasonably well to force an honorable draw in the Mohali and Ahmedabad Test matches. They just could not stand the enormous pressure applied by the Indian attack led by Anil Kumble in the Kanpur Test.
India took the three-Test Series at 1-0. In the five-match One-Day Series, the Kiwis won the Rajkot and Guwahati matches to take the Series to a decider at New Delhi. With the Series score being level at 2-2, the Wednesday's match would be watched with great interest. At Rajkot, it was the deeds of the top order batsmen that helped the Kiwis to clinch the issue. And in Guwahati, it was the imaginative show by its middle-order batsmen that helped the Kiwis to level the Series at 2-2. Ironically enough, India owed its two victories (Hyderabad and Gwalior) to its top three batsmen.
Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid took the cricket world by storm at Hyderabad with their 331-run stand for the second wicket. That was an ODI world record partnership. Then in Gwalior, Sourav Ganguly played a masterly innings to keep India's batting hopes alive. He stayed there throughout the 50-over innings. But at Rajkot, the Number Four batsman Ajay Jadeja (95) ran short of partners and India failed in its chase.
Then in Guwahati, India made a miserable chase to a victory target of only 237 runs. After losing Tendulkar, Ganguly and Dravid for 27 runs, India just could not recover to make a match of it. So here lies a telling message for Indian cricket. The middle order and the tail often expect the top three batsmen to lay a strong foundation. And whenever the top three fails, India's notorious excuse has been "we are not good chasers.
So we should have batted first". The One-Day International has caught the imagination of the current generation of cricket lovers mainly due to the innovative methods of the modern batsmen and bowlers. If the number 4,5 and 6 in the batting line-up always expects the top men to pave a smooth path, it would only be detrimental to the team. Precisely such a team cannot win matches especially when chasing a target.
Ability to do the repair work, and kindle the team's hopes of a victory is what expected from the modern middle-order batsmen. In fact, even in traditional form of cricket -the Test matches-the middle order batsmen are highly respected as they are supposed to possess the qualities of a "match-winner" and "match-saver". Of course in ODIs there cannot be a match-saver for obvious reason.
Why men like Chris Cairns, Chris Harris and Roger Twose of New Zealand, Michael Bevan of Australia, Lance Klusener and Jonty Rhodes of South Africa, Yousuf Yohanna of Pakistan, Arjuna Ranatunga and Aravinda De Silva of Sri Lanka are hailed as the great performers in the ODI world? The answer is simple: They are all capable of meeting the demands of ODIs.