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Zaheer holds the key
Krishnamachari Srikkanth - 20 December 2002

The fact that the Hamilton Test is the first in the game's long history in which both the competing sides have been dismissed for sub-100 totals in the first innings tells its own tale. Despite the seamer-friendly conditions there, I for one thought that the batsmen from both sides could have certainly put up a much better performance. Now it all depends on how New Zealand go about chasing the modest target that they have been set.

As for India, their fortunes hinge on how successful Zaheer Khan will prove to be. It was the left-arm quick's scorching spell of bowling on Saturday morning that helped India stage a stunning fightback after they had been dismissed for 99 in their first innings. True, he was helped by some loose New Zealand batting but all credit to Zaheer for keeping the ball in the right areas and inducing the mistakes that paved the way for India to come screaming back into the match. If he can now reprise his first- innings performance on Sunday, his team could well end up levelling the series.

Talking of Zaheer, he to me has been the 'find' of 2002 for India. The former Indian wicketkeeper Farookh Engineer called him the best Indian fast bowler after Kapil Dev and I feel that the way Zaheer is shaping up, he indeed is worthy of the accolade. What I like most about him is his attitude. He never seems to give up and is a willing learner and able performer. No wonder he caught the eye of the great Wasim Akram early in his career.

After his lion-hearted performance in the morning, Zaheer had every reason to expect a disciplined performance from the Indian batsmen in the second essay. A total in the region of 200 at that stage could have ensured that Sourav Ganguly's men would be the favourites going into the fourth day. However, with most of the batsmen failing yet again, this did not happen. Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar, the two world-class batsmen in our side, were the only ones to offer any resistance, though Virender Sehwag and Harbhajan Singh also scored a few lucky runs.

Chasing 160 to win, New Zealand have made a determined start and they would be fancying their chances as they have some good players in their line-up. Mark Richardson, who played the match- winning knock at Wellington, is looking good yet again and with Stephen Fleming and Nathan Astle to follow, India sure have their task cut out on a wicket that has shown signs of easing up to an extent. The vital first hour on Sunday then would hold the key. Is India manage to snare more than a couple of wickets, it could turn out to be an intriguing game.

© CricInfo

Other Articles by Krish Srikkanth