India hammered New Zealand by 372 runs to win the second Test on Monday and sealed their 14th consecutive series win at home.
Black Caps’ Mumbai-born spinner Ajaz Patel made history picking up 10 wickets in the first innings but Indian spinner Ashwin Ravichandran claimed a match tally of eight wickets – and 300th victim on home soil – and Mayank Agarwal came up with a vital batting performance to take India to victory.
India winning at home is anything but a surprise and that is why for many onlookers, the focus through the series was on what the performances may mean for the upcoming tour of South Africa too.
Here’s a look at the big takeaways from the two-match series:
The best balance
When the team management sits to pick a playing XI ahead of the match, the biggest task ahead of them is always to find a balance; a balance between batters and bowlers; a balance between what the opposition is good at and what you are good at; a balance between the expected conditions and the players picked. When India play away from home, finding that balance can sometimes prove to be difficult but at home, it is found almost effortlessly thanks to Ravindra Jadeja , Ravichandran Ashwin and Axar Patel. Not to forget Jayant Yadav, who also has a Test century. The presence of quality spinners who are more than handy with the bat means that India are almost never in trouble at home and even if they are, as they were in Kanpur when they were reduced to 51/5 in the second innings, they know their lower order is more than capable of turning this around. With this balance, defeating India in India is next to impossible and probably the greatest challenge in world cricket at the moment.
There were some who suggested that Mayank Agarwal should be dropped for the Mumbai Test to make place for Ajinkya Rahane. But as things panned out, India sure must have been glad they played the opener. In challenging conditions, he batted with rare authority. He has been guilty of playing loose shots against pacers in the past but he seemed to make a conscious effort to play closer to the body and not push at the ball in Mumbai. He is very comfortable against spin and it showed but he chose to play Tim Southee and Kyle Jamieson with a fair degree of caution. His 150 in the first innings and 62 in the second innings earned him the player of the match award and he will be hoping he has done enough to get on the flight to South Africa as well.
Iyer makes his mark
Iyer finished the series with 202 runs and in the process gave India a quality alternative to Ajinkya Rahane. Hanuma Vihari is another solid option for the team management but Iyer did enough to show that India won’t really lose too much if they go with him. His inexperience in South African conditions may count against him but Iyer has shown himself to be a player that the team will want to invest in. For now though, Iyer isn’t getting ahead of himself. He wants to keep grabbing the chances that come his way and hopefully that will open the door into the team.
“I’m not thinking of cementing a place,” said Iyer after the end of the Mumbai Test. “We’ve got so much competition and players in good form, I just want to do well when I get an opportunity. Dravid gives you confidence, we started off at India A. We’ve gelled really well, his work ethic and player management skills are amazing. It’s great to chat with him even outside the field.”
Siraj ahead of Ishant
Just as with Rahane, India now seem to have a better option to Ishant Sharma. The 33-year-old Delhi pacer has been brilliant for India in the last few years but doesn’t seem to have recovered well from his injuries in the recent past. The consistency that is his trademark has been missing and in the Mumbai Test, Mohammad Siraj once again gave India a glimpse of what he can bring to the table. He got movement, bounce, and generated some proper pace too. His three wickets to start the NZ first innings set up the game for India. In more helpful conditions, he can truly be a handful for the opposition to handle. But will the team management choose to go with experience or will they, as they had once done with Jasprit Bumrah, choose to be adventurous?
Kohli’s back… well, not quite
Kohli came back into the India mix after a short break away from the game. He looked refreshed but the rhythm and fluency that one associates with his batting wasn’t quite on display in Mumbai. A debatable decision ended his innings in the first innings and in the second innings, he never quite got going despite spending some time in the middle. On India’s previous tour of South Africa, Kohli scored 286 runs at 47.66 and India will want more of the same from their skipper this time around as well. Given the fragility of the middle order, Kohli will need to lead from the front against an SA fast bowling attack that possesses some serious quality.