Lively Indian pitch foreign to Kiwis

VIJAY YADAV, former Test wicketkeeper, was never so tense even at the height of the most demanding situation in his playing days.

VIJAY LOKAPALLY

VIJAY YADAV, former Test wicketkeeper, was never so tense even at the height of the most demanding situation in his playing days. Not even when he suggested Sachin Tendulkar's name to bowl the last over in a day-night match against South Africa at the Eden Gardens. Tendulkar had bailed the team out on that occasion. But this time Yadav's tension related to a different matter. Being the curator, he was under tremendous pressure as Australia and New Zealand met in a tri-series clash.

That's `Man of the Match' Brad Williams' fourth wicket, Paul Hitchcock caught by Matthew Hayden. — Pic. V. V. KRISHNAN-

The tension on the eve of the match was so visible. The ground staff worked furiously on the pitch at the Nahar Singh Stadium and the debate continued even as the captains walked out for the toss. How would the pitch behave?

It turned out to be a superb pitch, just the type that former players, especially the bowlers, have been advocating for the overall improvement of Indian cricket. The pitch had everything that contributes to making the game lively and one must give all credit to the ground staff, headed by Yadav, for showing the way to the other curators in the country.

The conditions were ideal for the bowlers. There was help from the pitch, what with the grass and moisture encouraging the bowlers and throwing a challenge to the batsmen. The Australian skipper Ricky Ponting was pleasantly surprised by the greenness of the pitch. So was Stephen Fleming, the normally shrewd New Zealand captain, who made the blunder of opting to bat despite having carefully studied the option of bowling first. He was also aware of the fact that teams batting second had won most of the contests at this venue. But Fleming won the toss and that made the task easier for Ponting, who later admitted that it was a good toss to lose. "I might have been tempted to bat too," remarked the Aussie, looking relieved that he was spared from taking such a tough decision. "The toss does not always dictate results, but it did here," remarked Fleming.

Australia's left-arm paceman Nathan Bracken, who picked up three wickets, celebrates the dismissal of New Zealand's Chris Nevin with captain Ricky Ponting. -- Pic. AP-

The New Zealand manager, Ashley Ross, confessed that his team found it difficult to read the Indian pitches. But the decision to bat was shocking because the Kiwi camp was aware of the moisture and the prevailing conditions. As Vijay Yadav commented, "The ball always tends to move a little in such conditions and the cricketers have to adapt. I tried to give my best. In any case, there wasn't any alarming bounce. The bounce was true and the batsmen needed to apply themselves. See how the Australians batted on the same pitch." That was a valid point made by the curator.

The ball swung and seamed just the way it would on a wintry morning in the north of India. There was lot of carry too and the bounce was true. What better surface could one ask for, for a good game of cricket? If the Kiwis messed it up, they had only themselves to blame.

If only the Kiwis had applied themselves like the Australians did. The batsmen lacked the will to fight and there were too many loose shots. The lack of footwork was quite evident: the batsmen groped as the ball moved. It was a mismatch mainly because the Kiwis failed to raise their game.

Ian Harvey appeals for a leg before verdict against Chris Harris. The umpire declared the batsman out. -- Pic. V. V. KRISHNAN-

"The bowlers did very well," said Ponting as even the second string Aussie attack comprising Brad Williams, Nathan Bracken, Ian Harvey and Andy Bichel proved lethal. Bichel may have been disappointing by his standards but the rest gave the Aussie camp enough to smile.

New Zealand shockingly looked out of place and never recovered from the second-ball dismissal of Chris Nevin. The embarrassment lay in the mode of dismissals as the batsmen failed to tackle the seam and swing. New Zealand had little chance once its top five batsmen were dismissed in a mere 52 balls. But for Craig McMillan, who made 24, the Kiwis would have been skittled out for their lowest total in one-day internationals.

Australia's top-scorer Matthew Hayden is probably talking about the lively pitch to Kiwi skipper Stephen Fleming after finishing the match in double quick time. -- Pic. V. V. KRISHNAN-

There was a marked difference in the quality of batting when the Australians commenced their response. Adam Gilchrist went about his job as if he was batting on a placid track and the in-form Matthew Hayden was hardly troubled by the Kiwi seamers, who tried too hard. In the process of trying desperately to make an early impact, the Kiwis gave too many scoring opportunities for the Australians to capitalise upon.

Neither the Aussies nor the Kiwis complained. The lively track was a welcome change and a message to the cricket administrators in the country that even small centres can produce such pitches, provided they are identified and supported. If there had to be complaints, they should have come from the packed audience. They had every reason to feel disappointed as they saw only 50.2 overs bowled in a 100-over match. But the good behaviour of the spectators was a feather in the cap of the industrial town.

Andy Bichel's lone success in the match: the wicket of the defiant Kiwi, Craig McMillan.-- Pic. V. V. KRISHNAN-

A feature of the match was its superb organisation with the Haryana Cricket Association Secretary Ranbir Singh ensuring there were no shortcomings. It was a welcome change after the nightmare of Gwalior.

The scores:

New Zealand: C. J. Nevin lbw b Bracken 0; S. P. Fleming c Gilchrist b Bracken 2; L. Vincent c Bichel b Williams 0; S. B. Styris c Ponting b Williams 7; C. D. McMillan lbw b Bichel 24; J. D. P. Oram c Gilchrist b Bracken 0; C. Z. Harris lbw b Harvey 14; B. B. McCullum c Martyn b Williams 5; D. L. Vettori lbw b Harvey 0; P. A. Hitchcock c Hayden b Williams 10; D. R. Tuffey (not out) 3; Extras (lb-12, w-18, nb-2) 32; Total (in 33.4 overs) 97.

Fall of wickets: 1-0, 2-11, 3-11, 4-20, 5-21, 6-73, 7-77, 8-80, 9-80.

Australia bowling: Bracken 9-2-25-3, Williams 9.4-1-22-4, Bichel 7-0-29-1, Harvey 8-2-9-2.

Australia: A. C. Gilchrist c & b Oram 29; M. L. Hayden (not out) 51; R. T. Ponting c McCullum b Tuffey 12; D. R. Martyn (not out) 2; Extras (lb-5, nb-2) 7; Total (for two wickets in 16.4 overs) 101.

Fall of wickets: 1-47, 2-90.

New Zealand bowling: Tuffey 6.4-0-51-1, Oram 7-1-31-1, Hitchcock 2-0-8-0, Vettori 1-0-6-0.