Trans-Tasman rivals promise a keen battle

Published: Wednesday, October 29, 2003, 0:14 [IST]
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Faridabad: Smarting under a comprehensive defeat at the hands of India, world champions Australia will go all out to ensure they are back to their winning ways when they take on New Zealand in the third match of the triangular series at Faridabad on Wednesday. To ram home the magnitude of the contest, it is akin to India taking on Pakistan at a neutral venue. Sparks are bound to fly, and what we have at hand is a seat-edge thriller. Ricky Ponting's men would be feeling like the wounded lion after their shock 37-run defeat at Gwalior on Sunday. The opposition should only expect a ferocious backlash, notwithstanding the handicap of missing their frontline strike bowlers due to injury.

The Kiwis, who surprised many with their gallant show in the two-Test series, are nevertheless trying to peak at the right time. The Black Caps, however, have been in India for a much longer time than the Aussies and have more or less acclimatised to the conditions, a factor which could help them in the crucial tie at the Nahar Singh stadium. The series opener between New Zealand and India was a damp squib after the match was abandoned due to rain in Chennai. The shared match points and a couple of days' break at a Chennai beach resort should have provided a welcome break for Fleming's men after the satisfying Test campaign.

It is clear that the New Zealanders are taking a leaf out of the Australian book and trying to enjoy their stay in the subcontinent. Whereas the rest of the team opted to forego the optional practice session on Monday, their opening batsman Lou Vincent took the trouble of an hour's drive to the venue from Delhi all alone, and despite reaching the ground late due to traffic snarls, had a rigorous net session with the help of local cricketers well past sunset. "Chalo, chalo, aur ek geind!" -- Vincent said in his accented Hindi, coaxing the bowlers for a few more toss ups. But what should be of concern to the Kiwis is the lack of match practice for the specialist One-day cricketers who arrived during the second Test at Mohali. Also, with Chris Cairns ruled out of the tie with a hamstring injury, the Kiwis will have to play really well to make up for his absence. Ponting and his coach John Buchanan have their hands full though, after the Indian mauling.

The second string bowling attack left much to be desired as Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman clobbered them all over the park and Ponting would be hoping for a more disciplined performance by the bowlers. With most of their frontline bowlers unavailable for the series for some reason or the other, the bowling was always going to be the weak link, but what was quite surprising was the inexplicable batting collapse in Gwalior. Seemingly, on course for victory at 132 for no loss while chasing a competitive target of 284, Australia lost four quick wickets for nine runs in the space of 22 balls, and eventually lost the match. "I think the bowlers did fairly well, they conceded about 20 extra runs in the last few overs, otherwise they did well. But I am very disappointed with the batsmen," a disappointed Ponting said after the match on Sunday.

Australia have a 58-25 head-to-head record against their rivals, and have won nine of their ten matches on neutral venues. More relevantly, the two teams have played on Indian soil three times, all of them World Cup matches in 1987-88 and 1995-96 and the Aussies have had the better of the Kiwis on all the occasions. Equally, the numbing 96-run loss at Port Elizabeth early this year when they failed to overhaul a modest Australian total of 208 notwithstanding, New Zealand have some good results to boast of against the Kangaroos. Notably, they beat them in three of the four league encounters in a tri-series on Australia's own soil in 2001-02, which led to the sacking of Steve Waugh as limited overs cricket captain.

Will Stephen Fleming be able to pull off the trick once again, or will he miss Shane Bond against the world's most formidable batting line-up is the question. Teams: Australia: Ricky Ponting (captain), Matthew Hayden, Adam Gilchrist, Jimmy Maher, Damien Martyn, Andrew Symonds, Michael Bevan, Michael Clarke, Ian Harvey, Brad Hogg, Andy Bichel, Michael Kasprowicz, Brad Williams and Nathan Bracken. New Zealand: Stephen Fleming (captain), Lou Vincent, Craig McMillan, Chris Cairns, Chris Harris, Jacob Oram, Scott Styris, Brendon McCullum, Kyle Mills, Chris Nevin, Daryl Tuffey, Daniel Vettori, Ian Butler and Paul Hitchcock. Umpires: David Shepherd (Eng) and S Venkataraghavan (Ind), Third umpire: I V Shivaram (Ind). Match Referee: Ranjan Madugalle (Sri Lanka). Hours of play: 09.00 to 12.30 hours, 13.15 to 16.45 hours.

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