Dubai: What happened to India in New Zealand? It was a rout. And routs are never pretty. Actually, they are nasty. None embodied it better than the Indian captain Virat Kohli who continues to take his frustration out on journalists.
India cannot win all the time, you might say. But they have to, if they are to be considered world-beaters. I would like to see them ranked alongside Steve Waugh’s ‘Invincible Australians.’ Why not? India has the team to reach the Test pinnacle. It’s just that the road is steep and bumpy.
India really went off the road in New Zealand. To me, that was unexpected. True, New Zealand can be tigers at home; ask the Australians. The conditions that afford swing and seam turn their pace bowlers into a pack of hungry wolves. And that’s precisely what happened; they devoured the Indian batsmen, who were clueless against the moving ball.
The rot started at the top: the opening pair. Prithvi Shaw and Mayank Agarwal got a couple of decent scores, but that didn’t translate into a solid opening stand.
India needed at least one opener with solid technique to wear down the bowlers. In seam-friendly conditions, early wickets expose the middle-order to the new ball.
That did not do any favours to Kohli. He never really got going, and the string of poor scores is a reflection of his abysmal form. Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane could not build on their starts and only Hanuma Vihari showed the technique to rough it out, but Kiwi seamers sorted him out.
And we all knew that Rishabh Pant wouldn’t get far with his penchant for stroke-play. He didn’t prove us wrong.
Pant’s selection in Tests is something I would never understand. Wriddhiman Saha is easily the best wicket-keeper in India. And in Tests, you play your best gloveman.
By opting to play Pant, the Indian skipper and coach sent out the message that they don’t trust the specialists alone to pile up a good total.
That thinking also manifested in the selection of Ravindra Jadeja in the second Test, when Ravichandran Ashwin is clearly the better spinner, at least in Test matches.
Ashwin may have grabbed only three wickets in the first Test, but then the Kiwi conditions suit the fast bowlers better. Which is why the Indian pacemen were incisive.
It was a pity that Ishant Sharma, who had a good haul in the first Test, had to miss the second. And Umesh Yadav is a poor substitute.
Well, I didn’t expect Jasprit Bumrah to run through the Kiwi batting, especially since he has come of a back injury. Yet his performance was admirable, though he was slower considerably. Mohammed Shami continued to impress, and with some more pressure from the other end, he could have had a richer haul.
What ruined the Indian bowlers’ record is their inability to wrap up the tail. In both the Tests, the Kiwi tail wagged vigorously notching runs that helped tilt the fortunes.
That was a crucial difference. The New Zealand bowlers were quick to nip the Indian tail to preserve the advantage. And that really mattered.
Part of that stemmed from New Zealand’s decision to field four frontline seamers plus the dibbly-dobbly of Colin de Grandhomme.
Captain Kane Williamson always had a fresh bowler to go at the Indian batsmen, and reports say that the Kiwi coach had specific plans to attack each of them.
Ravi Shastri, the Indian coach, calls this team “best travelling team”. There’s an iota of truth in it, given the brave recent performances in Australia and South Africa.
But the best explanation for India’s failure in New Zealand can be traced to the England tour when India lost 4-1 in 2018.
It was a series when Kohli showed us that he can play the moving ball with some well-crafted innings. However, it was also a series that reaffirmed the Indian batting’s frailty in seam-friendly conditions.
Unless the Indians master the art of playing swing and seam in England and New Zealand, they can never claim the mantle of world champions.
Ishant Sharma: The gangly pacer is the only Indian who distinguished himself. Pity, injury ruled him out of the second Test.
Ravindra Jadeja: That catch dismissed Neil Wagner made my day. It was at par with the Ben Stokes effort at the ICC World Cup last year.
Virat Kohli: This was his worst run, of late. His woeful form didn’t help the rest of the team, and his anger added to the misery.
Rishabh Pant: A wicketkeeper picked for his batting ability was the biggest flop.
- Shyam Krishna, Opinion Editor
New Zealand had a plan and executed it well
‘Nice guys’ don’t need to finish last.
This, in a nutshell, is the takeaway from the just-concluded Test series between India and New Zealand - as well as their one-day series if you like. A 3-0 whitewash of Virat Kohli’s men in the ODIs perhaps set the tone for the short Test series, where the Indian captain admitted that they were clearly “outplayed” by a superior team.
While the shoddy performance by the No.1 Test team will continue to be the subject of scrutiny for some time to come, Kane Williamson’s men deserve a huge pat on the back by the way they made use of their favourable conditions at home to bounce back from a drubbing they received at the hands of Australia only in their last Test series assignment. Just look at their margin of defeat in the last three Tests against the baggy greens prior to the series against India - 296 runs, 247 runs and 279 runs, respectively.
“Bouncing back isn’t a term that we use or one we use within our group,” Williamson said in his usual understated style at the post-match presentation at the Basin Reserve after subjecting India to a 10-wicket loss in the first Test. “It’s just about stripping things back a little bit. You can get carried away thinking about results [especially] when you have a number of poor ones and sometimes the want for a good one can be a distraction to getting it.”
History has shown that New Zealand can prove to be a completely different proposition playing at home - irrespective of the formats. The seed of their comprehensive 2-0 win in the Test series, according to me, lay in the manner in which the Kiwis turned the tables on the Men in Blue - chasing down 300-plus scores on two occasions to burst the bubble around the Indian fast bowling attack which had been much lauded in recent times. The scoreline of the one-day series must have given them a huge self-belief - along with the gameplan which the home team’s fast bowlers implemented to a nicety.
The Indian batting line-up, for all the reputation they enjoy - have a history of being suspect against awkward bounce and movement on the off stump channel - and this is a weakness that the trio of Tim Southee, Trent Boult and Kyle Jamieson exploited to the hilt in both Tests. Southee played the leader of the pack while the gigantic Jamieson struck a vital blow to the confidence levels of the Indian batsmen when he caught an out-of-form Kohli in front of the wicket for three runs in the first Test. The impact of getting dismissed for 165 in their first innings in a short Test series was difficult to surmount - and the poor form of their batting pivot meant India were always on the backfoot in all their four innings.
In a somewhat unusual game of mental warfare, the Kiwis decided to target Kohli as their ‘prime target’ - and it paid rich dividends by causing a semblance of mental disintegration for the latter.
There are no prizes for guessing that the Jamieson, all of six feet eight inches, will qualify as the find of the series for the home team. He posed all kinds of questions from the Indian batsmen in both Tests - not to speak of proving his allround capabilities with valuable contributions of 49 and 44 with the bat in crucial moments.
The senior New Zealand paceman struck telling blows to Indian batting, finishing with 14 wickets to his credit in such a short series. An unanimous choice for the ‘Player of the Series.’
Boult had been, over the years, a talismanic figure for New Zealand bowling though he had to play second fiddle to both Southee and young Jamieson in the series. The inside knowledge of Southee and Boult about the Indian batsmen, both being regular players in the IPL, must have gone a long way in devising their gameplan.
The 25-year-old, who made his Test debut against India in the first Test, had been the talking point of the series. His five-wicket haul in Basin Reserve and then again a 4-39 in Christchurch really helped his team’s cause - not to speak of his useful efforts with the bat in both Tests.
The veteran New Zealand batsman, who had a great one-day series, missed out with the bat under challenging conditions. His best effort was 48 in the second innings at Christchurch.
- Gautam Bhattacharyya, Sports Editor