Cuttack: Winless New Zealand are sweating over the fitness of inspirational all- rounder Chris Cairns ahead of a crucial tri-series match against hosts India here. Cairns, forced to leave the field with hamstring problems during Monday's game against world champions Australia at Pune, is a 50-50 starter, according to team manager Lindsay Crocker. "It's difficult to say now whether Chris will be able to play," Crocker said on Wednesday after the Kiwis arrived in this eastern coastal town for the day-night game at the Barabati stadium. "We will assess his fitness today and tomorrow morning before deciding whether he can take part in the match."
New Zealand, without a win in three games, must defeat India here on Thursday and again in Hyderabad next week to join Australia in the final at Calcutta's Eden Gardens on November 18. Cairns, 32, has been plagued by injuries since joining the team for the ongoing tournament after opting out of last month's Test series against India. He hobbled off the field during the rain-hit opener against the hosts at Madras on October 23, missed the next game against Australia at Faridabad and then suffered further hamstring trouble in Pune. The Kiwis are expected to face a fired-up Indian side following captain Stephen Fleming's outburst against the scheduling of the series, which he said favoured the hosts.
Fleming was critical that all matches between Australia and New Zealand had early morning starts where seaming conditions favour the team bowling first, while India play only day-night games. Fleming, whose hopes of making the final nose-dived after losing two day games against Australia, alleged the schedule was fixed to suit India. "It's a case of two competitions going on," he had said. Australia and us play one competition where it seams around and it's tough to bat, while India play another one where it gets slower and slower and turns." India skipper Rahul Dravid played down the scheduling controversy, saying he was more interested in how his team fared in the series. "We have to win our remaining games and that is all I am concerned about," said Dravid, standing in for injured Sourav Ganguly. India, who have a 1-1 record against Australia in the series, will miss seasoned leg- spinner Anil Kumble, who opted out of the game because of the death of his father. The hosts named Sairaj Bahutule as the replacement, but have yet to decide whether to include him or left-arm spinner Murali Kartik in the playing XI.