Mohali: Having allowed New Zealand to escape with a draw in Ahmedabad, India's hopes of a series win suffered a jolt on Wednesday with captain Sourav Ganguly being ruled out of the second and final cricket Test beginning in Mohali on Thursday.
The captain's absence may give local hero Yuvraj Singh the opportunity to earn his first Test cap, particularly with stand-in skipper Rahul Dravid hinting that the team would go in with four specialist bowlers. The hosts still have enough ammunition to maintain their formidable home reputation and the injury blow to their skipper might just spur them on to excel against the odds. "Ganguly has not been feeling very well. It is a great honour to lead the side. I am really looking forward to the game," Dravid said, looking much in control of things. Dravid said the playing eleven was yet to be decided. "We will discuss with the chairman of the selection committee Kirmani and John (Wright) before finalising the squad," he said.
The Kiwis showed remarkable resilience and character to save the first Test in Ahmedabad despite being in the dumps till the post-lunch session on the last day and have the ability to spring a surprise against the hosts on a track which may provide a lot more bounce to the bowlers. Despite their unenviable track record at home, Dravid and his young brigade have a job at hand and will be under some pressure to deliver the knock-out punch at the magnificent PCA stadium and win the two-Test series.
The drawn result in the Ahmedabad Test has not only left the hosts thoroughly disappointed but has raised a debate on the failure of the pitch authorities to take into account the home advantage factor while preparing the track. The flat track in Ahmedabad provided very little assistance to the spinners even on the fourth and fifth day that allowed the Black Caps to wriggle out of a tight situation. Even the normally unflappable Indian coach John Wright could not see much logic in preparing such tracks and made a point or two on why those responsible for preparing the pitch did not keep the home advantage factor in mind.
"It is the responsibility of people preparing wickets to keep these things in mind. Sometimes you probably need to raise these points with people responsible," Wright said. Both the Indian captain and coach defended the bowlers and blamed the "flat track" for India's failure to force a result in Ahmedabad but the bowlers will now have their task cut out at the Mohali strip which is expected to be far more livelier. "You have to play on tracks that are given to you. The bowlers bowled their hearts out but there was nothing for them even in the closing stages of the game," Wright explained.
The visitors are treating the outcome in the Ahmedabad encounter as a moral victory and stand-in coach Ashley Ross did not waste time in trying to score a few psychological points ahead of the final Test saying that his wards had the ability to adapt to different conditions. The vote of confidence from their coach will further lift Stephen Fleming and his men seeking to register their first series win on Indian soil. Fleming, who underwent a scan on Wednesday morning after complaining of dizziness, has been ruled fit and will be at the helm of affairs on Thursday Conquering the Indians in their own den is considered to be one of the toughest challenges and the Kiwis seem to have done their homework well before embarking on the tour.
If at all the Indian team management decides to field five bowlers considering the form of the top order batsmen, Mumbai all-rounder Ajit Agarkar, who was drafted into the squad in place of an injured Avishkar Salvi, could be included in the team. Dravid, the hero in Ahmedabad with a monumental 222 and 73, has been in tremendous form and will have to shoulder the batting responsibility of the team besides the captain's job. Ganguly's form was also quite encouraging what with a century and a quickfire 25 under his belt in the first Test. But in his absence the pressure to come good with the bat will be all the more on batting stars Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag, both of whom disappointed in Ahmedabad.
The Indians are most likely to persist with the opening combination of Sehwag and Akash Chopra who displayed good technique in both the innings but would be keen to produce a big score to cement his place in the team. Leg-spinner Anil Kumble and offie Harbhajan Singh will share the spin responsibility again and if curator Daljit Singh is to be believed, both of them will get some assistance on the last two days of the match. The hard-hitting Nathan Astle, who will return home after this Test due to a knee injury, Craig McMillan and Lou Vincent have been among runs, a fact which would be of great comfort to the visitors.
Teams (from): India: Virender Sehwag, Akash Chopra, Rahul Dravid (capt), Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Parthiv Patel, Anil Kumble, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, L Balaji, Ajit Agarkar, Yuvraj Singh, Sairaj Bahutule.
New Zealand: Stephen Fleming (capt), Mark Richardson, Lou Vincent, Nathan Astle, Craig McMillan, Scott Styris, Robbie Hart, Jacob Oram, Daniel Vettori, Paul Wiseman, Daryl Tuffey, Richard Jones, Ian Butler, Michael Mason.
Umpires : David Shepherd (Eng) and Rudi Koertzen (SA). Third umpire: K Hariharan (Ind). Match referee: Ranjan Madugalle (Sri Lanka).