By Bharath Ramaraj
The first One-Day International (ODI) of the New Zealand vs India series will be played at McLean Park, Napier on Sunday. The scenic ground that has witnessed some monumental ODI games can unsettle tourists, especially teams from subcontinent with its biting cold.
If we go down the memory lane, India played their inaugural game at Napier back in 1994. India seemed to be in the hunt in that match, before a late order collapse and Danny Morrison‘s hat-trick completely throttled the visitors to a 28-run defeat. A year later, in the Centenary cup held in New Zealand, India were hit by the now famous Napier’s bitterly cold temperatures. Many Indian players seemed to have their hands inside their pockets, while fielding. New Zealand’s workman-like attack bowled with chronometric precision to flag off a fine bowling performance, before they knocked off the runs for the loss of six wickets.
In 1999, India reached noteworthy crusts by defeating New Zealand in a see-saw battle by two wickets. The quality of the match on view wasn’t great — a comedy of errors by New Zealand batsmen saw five run outs being effected by the Indian team. But the bubbling tensions right at the end of the match, forced the crowd to bite off their fingernails to shreds.
A few years later in 2002, in the in the midst of drop-in wickets helping seamers to make merry and take a truckload of wickets, India yet again lost at Napier by 35 runs. Riding high on the brilliance of one-man army, Virender Sehwag, India seemed to have a window of opportunity to beat the Kiwis, but it wasn’t to be.
During their tour to New Zealand in 2009 though, India took sweet revenge for past defeats by thrashing the hosts. In a rain reduced 38-over game, India gave New Zealand a lesson in power hitting by compiling 273 runs on the board and restricted New Zealand to 220.
Napier is generally regarded as one of the best batting wickets in New Zealand. Even in 2003, when bowlers bestrode batsmen, one saw both teams making reasonable scores. It also has to be said that at Napier, teams may prefer to field after winning the toss, as the conditions favour the side batting second. With it being a relatively small ground, it won’t surprise cricket pundits if both teams aggregate huge scores on the board in the first ODI.
India have a young and confident line-up and despite the series loss in South Africa are in fine fettle and bubbling with enthusiasm. New Zealand too would be heartened by the fact that a slew of youngsters made a name for themselves in the series against the West Indies. Most of the Indian batsmen including skipper MS Dhoni, Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma and company are extremely good at essaying shots through the line. The even bounce on offer at Napier should help their cause for sure.
From New Zealand’s perspective, it would be interesting to see whether Corey Anderson can continue to clamber bowlers with some monstrous shots. Adam Milne is another exciting prospect New Zealand have in their ranks. He can bowl with serious pace and hit the bat hard. Nathan McCullum and Kyle Mills are fine utility cricketers in their own right. A lot though, will still depend on the bedrocks of their line-up like Ross Taylor, Brendon McCullum and Martin Guptill.
So we are likely in for an intriguing series with full of twists and turns!
(Bharath Ramaraj, an MBA in marketing, eats, drinks and sleeps cricket. He has played at school and college-level, and now channelises his passion for the game by writing about it)
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