Chopra shines in a damp encounter

THE final day of the three-day tour-opener against Board President's XI on September 28 was the Kiwis' first day of competitive cricket as a National team since May.

SANJAY RAJAN

Akash Chopra, who made an unbeaten century, is being greeted by Yuvraj Singh. The two put on 166 in the side's score of 227.-V. GANESAN

THE final day of the three-day tour-opener against Board President's XI on September 28 was the Kiwis' first day of competitive cricket as a National team since May.

The younger members of Stephen Fleming's side must have also realised that what they have heard and read is true: the Indians are extremely tough opposition in their backyard.

After only 10.1 overs were possible on the opening day at the newly-constructed ACA-VDCA Stadium in Visakhapatnam, and the second day lost to rain completely, the Black Caps' bowlers finally managed to get fairly long spells on the concluding day.

The outfield was heavy owing to two days of rain, the pitch slow while only the bowlers operating from the far end were able to derive a certain amount of bounce.

Delhi's Akash Chopra improved on his chances of a look-in for the opener's slot in Test cricket with a neatly made unbeaten 103 (264b, 5x4). Add to it Yuvraj Singh's dominating, undefeated 80 (177b, 219m, 2x6, 7x4), and the relatively inexperienced New Zealand attack was actually put through the wringer: with the duo putting on166 in the side's score of 227 for one. Yuvraj had walked in at No. 4, ahead of V. V. S. Laxman.

BP XI, led by Test star Virender Sehwag, won the toss. And when the skipper opened the batting with Chopra, it grew clear that the National selection committee does not intend acceding to his request of dropping down the order in the longer version of the game.

And as the country's search for the right kind of opening pair continued, S. S. Das walked out with Chopra after play resumed at 10.45 a.m. on the final day (the official word was that Sehwag was indisposed). The Orissa cricketer, for whom it was the last opportunity to make a comeback for the two-Test series, failed to come good.

Chopra, whom the Selection Committee is viewing seriously, looked compact. There was a sense of certainly about his footwork against both mediumpace and spin. A prolific run-getter in domestic cricket, the 26-year-old was among runs on the India `A' tour of the Caribbean. He had missed the `A' tour of England and the recent Challenger series, recuperating from a knee injury.

All Blacks' sports psychologist, Gilbert Enoke, joined the cricket team in this port city. He said, "motivating the guys in the tough Indian conditions is a huge challenge for me. You see, New Zealand has not won a series in India."

Fleming is banking heavily on his spinners, left-arm Daniel Vettori and offie Paul Wiseman, to come good during the Test series.

"We are under no illusions about how good the Indian batsmen are and how tough the conditions are going to be," said Wiseman. The thought was echoed by Vettori, who added, "India has four to five of the best batsmen in the world. You just have to go out and bowl good balls and do that consistently. If we do not do that, then we are going to get killed."

The visitors decided to keep out their spearhead Daryl Tuffey, all-rounder Jacob Oram and opener Richard Jones from the XI while the home side dropped opener Wasim Jaffer and speedsters Tinu Yohannan and Amit Uniyal.

Brief scores:

Board President's XI 227 for one in 84.5 overs (A. Chopra 103 not out, Yuvraj Singh 80 not out) v New Zealand.