India's enviable home record under threat

Published: Tuesday, October 14, 2003, 23:35 [IST]
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Mohali: India go into Thursday's decisive final Test against confident New Zealand looking for a match-winning performance from the bowlers to maintain their enviable home record. India's reputation of being tigers on home pitches suffered a setback when Sourav Ganguly's men were forced to settle for a draw from a winning position in the first Test at Ahmedabad which ended on Sunday. Now, a victory alone will silence critics and satisfy fans. India have not lost or even drawn a home Test series in the last three years under Ganguly, thanks to magical spells from spinners Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh on helpful tracks. The record is now under threat after Stephen Fleming's Black Caps proved tough customers at Ahmedabad by warding off the Indian bowlers with a determined batting display. Critics have blasted India's inability to bowl the opposition out twice even in home conditions.

Their number will increase if the hosts failed to force a win in Mohali. "The draw (at Ahmedabad) will make Ganguly's critics sharpen their pens, finding fault with his bowling changes, field placements and just about everything," said former India captain Sunil Gavaskar. "The fact is New Zealand have come better prepared mentally and are thus tougher customers than their previous teams." Needing 370 to win the first Test, New Zealand were facing defeat at 86-4 and then 169-6 before Craig McMillan and Nathan Astle steered their team to safety with unbeaten half-centuries. The draw boosted the confidence of the tourists, who have now set their sights on winning their first Test series in India. "We feel that we can still get our hands on the silverware if we play well in Mohali," said Fleming. "I had mentioned that the first Test is crucial in a short series.

Now that we have proved to ourselves that we can play well in such conditions even under pressure, we feel a lot stronger." Astle scored 103 in the first innings to become the first Kiwi batsman to make a Test hundred in India since 1976, while McMillan compiled a pair of half-centuries in tight situations. The tourists' bowling lacks bite in the absence of pace spearhead Shane Bond, who is recovering from a back injury. Left-arm spinner Daniel Vettori was the pick of the lot, but needs support to keep pressure on a formidable Indian batting line-up that includes Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and Ganguly.

The Indian captain conceded his team was under pressure to deliver, but hoped the pitch in Mohali will assist his bowlers more. "The pitch will have a bit more bounce and will probably help the spinners a bit more than it did in Ahmedabad," said Ganguly. "It's going to be a challenge for us to win the second Test under pressure." Teams

New Zealand (from): Stephen Fleming (capt), Mark Richardson, Lou Vincent, Scott Styris, Nathan Astle, Craig McMillan, Jacob Oram, Robbie Hart, Daniel Vettori, Paul Wiseman, Daryl Tuffey, Ian Butler, Richard Jones, Michael Mason.

India (from): Sourav Ganguly (capt), Virender Sehwag, Akash Chopra, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Venkatsai Laxman, Parthiv Patel, Anil Kumble, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Ajit Agarkar, Laxmipathy Balaji, Sairaj Bahutule, Yuvraj Singh.

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