Eight wickets. Sixteen runs. Fifty-one balls.
These were the figures that mattered most on Saturday evening around 7.30 pm. With the festivities going on, it isn’t difficult to assume Indians – those not at the ground – weren’t particularly glued to the game. After all, bursting crackers, tending to guests or just preparing for Deepavali could have taken precedence over yet another cricket match.
For, a chase of 270 runs can be an arduous climb. The average fan should be forgiven for ignoring the game for a couple of hours and getting down to important chores ahead of the big festival on Sunday. “Let me finish this up and then I will get back to the game.” Many Indians must have thought or said this to themselves on Saturday evening.
When they took their seats again in front of the television, the score-line must have been a shocker. The New Zealand innings had lasted just over 100 minutes. They were bowled out for a paltry 79 runs, and went down by a massive 190 runs, the biggest margin of defeat against this opponent. It was an incomprehensible collapse by every standard.
There has been a lot of talk about New Zealand looking back on this tour with hope and optimism for the future. Indeed they should, for they have found two stars in Tom Latham and Mitchell Santner, who ought to serve their national team across formats for years to come.
Even so, the team management – and selectors back home – need to take stock of the situation. Collapse has been the often-used term for the Black Caps’ innings on this tour. It became a routine affair to see their batsmen throw away wickets, whether from strong positions during the Test series, or playing lackadaisical shots in the ODIs.
It is a bit painful to use this singular word to describe this tour, though. The Kiwis pushed India in the three Tests, never mind what the scorecard tells you. There is no team in world cricket today that will not find these conditions daunting. And yet, the visitors held their heads high until the second innings of the Indore Test.
What they lacked was perseverance, and a little more experience in their batting line-up. The change in formats allowed the conditions to be utilised a bit more, in the sense that the infinite nature of Test cricket could no longer play into India’s hands. Fifty overs, that’s all Virat Kohli and his mates got to bat, and then it was New Zealand’s turn.
Technically, for much of this series, it was the other way around as India preferred to chase. But situations – and conditions – didn’t shackle Kane Williamson as much as they did in the longer format.
As a result we saw New Zealand win two ODIs and stretch the series to a decider. Despite varying success for the likes of Martin Guptill and Luke Ronchi, the over-reliance on Williamson, and the lack of intent from senior players like Ross Taylor et al, their batsmen didn’t let the slow turn in the pitch get to them. Until this last match.
When they finally did, chasing a historic ODI series win on Indian soil, it became embarrassing. Slow turn, three spinners, and 270 runs to chase – this Kiwi team will, sadly, remember the humiliation in Visakhapatnam for a long time.
India won a first ODI series of some note after nearly two years. This should bring a huge sigh of relief to skipper MS Dhoni. Otherwise it would have made for very uncomfortable questions about his future.
More importantly, though, it would have meant that this experiment of resting senior bowlers would have failed. In light of only eight ODIs more before the 2017 Champions Trophy, the sum of these two factors would have been a huge setback for the limited-overs fortunes of Indian cricket.
Instead, India got an impressive victory, thanks to Amit Mishra’s scintillating display. It is to be remembered though that he might not find a spot in the playing eleven (or even the squad) once Ashwin and Jadeja return. As such, it is imperative to look beyond this massive win and focus on what India gained out of this series as a whole.
The spotlight is on the batting line-up, with a second-string bowling attack proving its worth in all five matches. The first cross is against Ajinkya Rahane’s name. With just 143 runs in five matches (at 28.60), he has surely ruled himself out of the openers’ race come January, when KL Rahul and Shikhar Dhawan will be fit.
And yet, Rahane cannot be omitted altogether because the middle-order has just not fired. India won in Dharamsala thanks to the bowlers, and in Mohali owing to the Kohli-Dhoni combination. They lost in Delhi and Ranchi, because Manish Pandey, Kedar Jadhav and Hardik Pandya just didn’t show enough wherewithal – individually or collectively – to grab the situation by its collar. It is a disconcerting thought.
Yes, Jadhav will have his limited uses going forward. Pandya will have his value in the future too, considering the ODI events in England. It is Pandey’s failures that ought to be of most concern. Seventy-six runs in five matches, when he has been given a consistent run in the first eleven, simply doesn’t cut it.
The team management – and selectors – will look at it as a learning curve, an obvious tough phase. But the question is whether they will consider the merits of persisting with the same names, or go for new ones, like in the aftermath of the Australia series, when Gurkeerat Mann and Rishi Dhawan were discarded.
The search for Dhoni’s successor is nowhere near its end-point. But this experimentation has allowed for continuation in thought process. If that is not taken advantage of, this minor advantage accrued from a relieving series victory will be lost.
The score in brief
India 269/6 in 50 overs (Rohit Sharma 70, Virat Kohli 65; Ish Sodhi 2/66) beat New Zealand 79 in 23.1 overs (Kane Williamson 27; Amit Mishra 5/18, Axar Patel 2/9) by 190 runs.
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