cricket / long form

Cliched, predictable and very interesting

*This piece was originally published on Backward Point, and is published here unchanged. It was a review of New Zealand’s two tests in India, played in August 2012. Image

The brief Test series between India and New Zealand was not one for surprises. A 2-0 victory for India was predicted, and they delivered. The matches were not expected to last five days, and they didn’t. Even more clichéd was the way the games played out. A computer simulation couldn’t have played out a more predictable result. Having said that, there were plenty of interesting things to draw out of the series.

India’s best weapon is spin. Throughout their history their turners have confused and bewitched batsmen, especially those from countries where seam bowling dominates. This series was no different. Ravi Ashwin completely destroyed New Zealand in the first Test. Ojha chipped in with a five wicket bag in the second, made all the more special by the fact that he opened the bowling. Overall, the two Indian spinners took one fewer wicket than the combined total of all other bowlers.

Similarly, the seamer stocks are very low for India. This is nothing new, but is perhaps worse than it has ever been. India played two in this series, Zaheer and Yadav. Both struggled to make an impact. By the end of day one on the second test Zaheer resembled a shambling drunk, so tired and worn down did he look. Yadav’s economy rate was awful, well above four an over with an average above 40. He didn’t even get the new ball in the second test. Heaven help India when they next have to tour a nation with green pitches.

The old guard is on the way out. Two of the big three Indian batsmen have already thrown in the towel, now it is just Tendulkar remaining. We all knew the day would come when he could no longer justify a place in the team, and perhaps that is now. Across three innings against the fairly tame Kiwi bowling attack, he scored 63 runs. At home. More to the point, every time he got out he left the next guy in a much more difficult task. Tendulkar had a golden opportunity to win a game for his team in the final innings of the second Test. Instead, he failed and it was left up to Kohli and Dhoni. Tendulkar did not retire after his 100th century because apparently that would have been ‘selfish.’ More selfish than occupying the most important spot in the batting order and not scoring runs?

The Kiwis are flashy but soft. That was the damning assessment of John Wright just after he quit as coach, and the first Test proved him right. (no pun intended, really.) They consistently failed to grit their way through difficult times, and only succeeded when they threw caution to the wind and tried to hit their way out of trouble.  The big problem seemed to be an inability to mentally cope with good spin bowling. Perhaps a token warm up match would have improved the batting, but even that isn’t certain.

So as we see, this series confirmed the stereotypes. As some final thoughts though, both teams can take some positives out of it. Both ought to start trusting in youth. There were promising signs for the New Zealand seam bowlers, especially those who are 23 at the oldest. Boult was unlucky to not take more wickets with his dangerous swing, and Southee found his edge to take career best figures in the second test. India’s best batsmen were Pujara and Kohli, two young men who have huge futures. If nothing else, this series has shown that both teams have the potential to get better in the future. That should be heartening to anyone who was initially disappointed by this seemingly pointless series.

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