Cricket: Rain may save Black Caps

By Kris Shannon of APNZ in Hyderabad

Rain may very well wash out the first test between New Zealand and India, but it shouldn't wash away the ills which plague this team.

The series' opener in Hyderabad was the first time India have hosted a test match in August - the heart of the monsoon season.

And, despite the matches being confined to the south of the country and, supposedly, away from the worst of it, the monsoon well and truly arrived on the afternoon of day three.

At the time, New Zealand were 41-1 in their second innings after being forced to follow on, still 238 runs short of making India bat again, with two-and-a-half days remaining.

As the tourists watch puddles quickly form over most of the field, they must have felt a fair bit of fortune.

The New Zealand top order had already illustrated far more restraint in 18 overs this afternoon than they had in the first innings, particularly Brendon McCullum who was playing as if he were wearing a shock collar set to stun with every flailing swing of his bat.

McCullum retired to the pavilion (hopefully drier than the press box at Rajiv Gandhi Stadium, which immediately sprung leaks) with 16 runs to his name after facing 59 balls. Included in that was just one boundary, his only shot of aggression in an hour-and-a-half of batting.

After throwing away his wicket with appalling shot selection in a typically over-aggressive first innings, McCullum looked like he was settling in for the long haul.

Without the rain, which is expected to continue tomorrow, it may have required a similar effort from McCullum to the last time he played on this ground if New Zealand were to save the match. Then, he scored 225 in the second innings as New Zealand held the hosts to a draw.

But, even if history did repeat, the New Zealand side would still have some serious work to do before next week's second test in Bangalore.

A touring side who struggle to play spin is always going to find the going tough when touring India, and New Zealand picked up in this match where they left off in the West Indies.

In the Caribbean, Sunil Narine and Narsingh Deonarine tied New Zealand in knots, taking 18 of the 40 wickets to fall in the series as the tourists copped two hidings.

Indian captain MS Dhoni may well have done his homework, introducing spin in the eighth over in New Zealand's first innings, the seventh over to start day three, and the first over in the Black Caps' second turn with the bat.

It worked. For Narine and Deonarine substitute Pragyan Ojha and Ravichandran Ashwin, the Indian pair with 20 tests between them who combined to dismiss all nine of 10 New Zealand batsmen in their first innings total of 159.

For all the talk about a change in leadership and the fresh start provided by Mike Hesson, the same old problems returned at once. New Zealand cannot continue to be unravelled by spin; it is a weakness any major test playing side can exploit.

The players may argue the top order - McCullum aside - were undone by fine pieces of bowling, and that is true. But it wasn't as if the wickets came out of the blue.

The New Zealand men in the middle must have grown weary of the shrieks of the Indian fans, considering the number of times they incited the crowd by edging the ball only to find grass, or the regularity with which they were struck on the pad after being trapped on the crease.

Today, Martin Guptill was probably cursing his misfortune at India's refusal to institute the Decision Review System utilised elsewhere in world cricket. It probably would have found his dismissal - when he padded up but the Ojha's delivery appeared to hit him outside the line of off stump - to be incorrect.

But that mindset would only be glossing over the two previous LBW appeals he had survived and the dropped chance at second slip, all from Ojha.

Guptill has now fallen to spin bowling in four of his last five innings. And his is not an isolated problem.

- APNZ

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