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Injury Set Back For India Lucky Break For NZ

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Fuseworks Media
Injury Set Back For India Lucky Break For NZ

By Chris Barclay of NZPA

Colombo, Sept 11 NZPA - The loss of a second key batsman gave underdone India more cause for concern before their one-day cricket Tri-Series debut against a desperate New Zealand at R Premadasa Stadium here today.

Gautam Gambhir had barely batted in the nets once the squad had arrived before he aggravated a groin strain, a setback which left India without two automatic choices for their top order for the double header against New Zealand and Sri Lanka.

India have already been denied the experience and raw hitting power of swashbuckling opener Virender Sehwag, who continues to nurse a shoulder injury.

Sehwag's absence robs India of their run scoring stimulus and, although Gambhir does not enjoy the same status, the diminutive left-hander has been an important foil for his Delhi teammmate either opening or batting at first drop.

India's disastrous World Cup campaign in the Caribbean two years ago hastened Gambhir's recall; his ODI career now spans 78 ODIs, 2594 runs at an average of 37.59 and a handsome strike rate of 83.92.

"It's a big blow for us, he's one of the players that has done really well for us in the last 1-1/2 years," Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni said as Gambhir packed for home yesterday.

He has been replaced in the squad by five-match rookie Virat Kohli. Reserve wicketkeeper Dinesh Karthik will open the batting, as he did during India's last ODI series in the Caribbean in July.

Karthik was partnered with Gambhir against the West Indies and scored 118 at 39.33, including a career-best 67 in game one at Jamaica -- figures that obviously pale in comparison to Sehwag's exploits during his 205-match ODI career.

However, any comfort New Zealand derive from Sehwag and Gambhir's absenses will be tempered by the quality which remains.

India can still accommodate modern day legends Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid in their top three.

Tendulkar, the world's leading test and one-day runscorer, will open, while the recalled Dravid will bat at No 3 in his 334th ODI.

New Zealand -- who must win to stay alive in the tournament after being trounced by Sri Lanka by 97 runs on Tuesday -- might take solace from the fact Dravid and Tendulkar have both had long lay-offs.

Dravid has not played an ODI since October 2007 while Tendulkar has been inactive at international level since the third test against New Zealand in Wellington in early April.

Tendulkar does not play the shortest form of the game, so was absent from the ICC's Twenty20 World Cup in June, and he also made himself unavailable for India's trip to the West Indies.

Ominously though, Tendulkar's most recent ODI was in Christchurch on March 8, when he compiled a sublime 163 before retiring hurt with an abdominal strain in the 45th over.

Tendulkar and Dravid boast the pedigree and numbers to suggest they will slot back into the groove smoothly. Whether their teammates are as equipped remains to be seen.

Since the four-match ODI series in the Caribbean, India's players had a six-week break before competing in the domestic Corporate Trophy.

Dhoni was confident that week-long competition would be enough to get his squad back in nick, though admitted today's match would give a truer indication.

"Everyone has been giving their best at training, the intensity has been up but you wait for the result," he said.

"If you lose the first game you are rusty, if you win the first game you are fresh."

Meanwhile, New Zealand has their own batting issues. Everyone is physically fit but mentally a consistent performance has proved elusive on this tour apart from the second Twenty20 match last Friday.

Ross Taylor and Jesse Ryder crossed fifty in the Twenty20s, Brendon McCullum went close with 49, but New Zealand chase for 217 against Sri Lanka was torpedoed by the side listing to seven for three in five overs.

McCullum, Ryder, Martin Guptill and Taylor need to fire in unison, particularly if New Zealand lose the toss and are again cursed to bat under lights.

New Zealand became the 11th team in a row to fall well short of a victory target at Premadasa on Tuesday night so Daniel Vettori enhances, if not guarantees, a competition lifeline if he is able to bat first.

Unfortunately his record against Dhoni is not encouraging -- the Indian won three of the four ODI tosses they contested in New Zealand in March.

The match starts at 9pm NZT. Sri Lanka and India play tomorrow; the top teams progress to Monday's final.


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