Virat Kohli suffered his first series whitewash as captain of India’s Test team with New Zealand defeating his men at the Hagley Oval in Christchurch on Monday. After losing the first Test by ten wickets, India went down by seven wickets in the second and final match.
It would be unfair on the Kiwis to term their series win as a surprise. Kane Williamson and Co are a formidable unit at home and have a proven track record, but the manner of defeat in both games for India is not something many would have expected.
India, who remain the top-ranked side in the ICC World Test Championship points table, lost the first Test in just over the three days and the second one even more quickly. They had their moments through the series, but they were few and far between. For the most part, it was the Black Caps who dictated play with both bat and ball.
India will have a lot to ponder over as they take stock of their performance in this series. They went in with a side that had its fair share of experience and youth but will be returning empty-handed.
Here’s our rating of the Indian players’ performance in the two-Test series against New Zealand:
Click here to see the numbers of India’s players in the two-Tests series.
On his first tour to New Zealand, the right-hander looked in all sorts of discomfort in the opening Test. He got bowled in the first innings at Wellington, after attempting an expansive drive across the line, and was caught off-guard by a short ball in the second innings. Credit to the 20-year-old, though, he reassessed his game and the conditions to come back and score a fluent half-century in the first innings of the second Test. Facing the new ball is probably the toughest thing to do while playing in New Zealand, and Shaw should be a much-improved player at the end of this tour.
Just like Shaw, Agarwal was also on his first tour to NZ with the Indian team. And he, too, showed glimpses of the talent he possesses but couldn’t go on to make a big mark. In the first Test, the right-hander was India’s most comfortable batsman with scores of 34 and 58. The second match, though, saw the 29-year-old register single-digit scores in both innings. He finished with the most runs and the highest average for India at the end of the series. But he will be disappointed to have not done more after being in stellar form during India’s home Tests last year.
India had a relatively inexperienced opening pair and a No 4 batsman who, to put it frankly, was out of form. The role of the No 3, thus, was critical. Pujara spent a considerable amount of time in the middle across his four innings. He played a total of 351 deliveries, to be precise. But it’s fair to say that he didn’t take the game forward for his team while at the crease. As Kohli pointed out after the first Test, India’s batsmen lacked intent, and Pujara must shoulder much of the blame for that. He was his usual, solid self while leaving and defending the ball, but India needed him to take the initiative and score more freely.
India looks a different team when their skipper is in form. And the same can be said when he isn’t getting runs. New Zealand’s plan to Kohli was simple: keep pushing the out-swingers before darting in a straight one. The right-hander edged to second slip in his first innings of the series, got caught-behind after edging a pull in his second innings, and was out LBW in near-identical fashion in both innings of the second Test. He has had problems outside off-stump in the past as well and simply didn’t have an answer for it this time around. The fact that Mohammed Shami ended up with more runs than him in the series shows what kind of a patch he’s going through. One Kohli ton and we may have seen a different scoreline.
Just like Pujara, a lot more was expected of Rahane as well. Unlike several others in the team, the right-hander is included in just one format and even took part in the tour games in New Zealand prior to the Test series. But he never really looked fluent in the two Tests. The first match saw him get starts (46 and 29) but that was it for him in the series. His keenness to keep attempting the pull and hook in the second Test, despite getting hit a handful of times, was baffling and unexpected from a senior player like him. Despite getting Kohli’s backing at the post-match presser, one can’t help but wonder if the end is near for the 31-year-old.
With the likes of KL Rahul not included in the squad and Shubman Gill, who scored a century and a double against New Zealand A earlier, warming the bench, Vihari was entrusted with a big task in the middle order. Batting tends to get relatively easier in New Zealand by the time a No 6 batsman walks out and the right-hander was expected to take advantage. Sadly, he didn’t really do that apart from the one half-century in the second Test. Like Pujara and Rahane, the 26-year-old faced a fair share of deliveries but struggled to get a move on.
One of the biggest talking points in terms of India’s team selection was Pant getting picked ahead of Wriddhiman Saha. India made it clear that in home conditions, where the ball turns sharply and keeps low, Saha would be the first choice wicketkeeper, but on foreign shores, it would be Pant who would don the gloves. The rationale behind this decision was that Pant could be a game-changer down the order. But scores of 19, 25, 12 and 4 by the left-hander did little to change the game in India’s favour. The 22-year-old, on his first tour to New Zealand, was efficient for the most part behind the stumps but seemed lost with the bat. He struggled to find a balance between going for his shots and showing caution. Only time will tell what impact this tour has had on his frame of mind. He didn’t get a game in the limited-overs leg and failed to make a mark in the Tests.
He was picked ahead of Ravindra Jadeja in the first Test and toiled hard to bag three wickets in the one innings that he got to bowl. The off-spinner’s effort with the ball was hard to fault but it’s his form with the bat that led to his ouster in the second Test. As coach Ravi Shastri pointed out after the first game, the team management looks at a lot more than just bowling credentials while picking a spinner. Batting and fielding capabilities are crucial, too, and Ashwin will need to step up his game in this regard to make it to the XI on the next tour.
His catch to dismiss Neil Wagner in New Zealand’s first innings in the second Test was arguably the moment of the series. One extra point goes to Jadeja just for that. It was a moment of sheer genius and showed just how much more he brings to the table in terms of fielding when compared to Ashwin. The left-arm spinner got two wickets in the 15 overs that he bowled in the match and even managed to remain not out on 16 in India’s second innings. Not the most memorable performance but it will do no harm to his reputation.
The seasoned pacer was inarguably India’s best bowler in the first Test and, perhaps, in the entire series. Sharma picked a five-wicket haul in New Zealand’s first innings of the opening Test in what was a high-class spell. The right-arm quick was patient and pitched the ball in good areas consistently, which is something the other Indian pacers struggled to do. The 31-year-old said that he was sleep-deprived heading into the first Test before being forced to sit out of the second game due to a recurring ankle injury. With the all-important tour to Australia scheduled for later this year, India would hope he regains full fitness and doesn’t lose his rhythm.
New Zealand’s pacers thrived in the series because of their ability to pitch the ball up and allow it to swing. Umesh Yadav was expected to do that for India. While the others in the Indian attack are hit-the-deck bowlers, Yadav is someone who tends to give it some air. But the right-arm quick could manage just a wicket each in both innings despite being handed the new ball. His performance in Christchurch once again highlights the difference between his effectiveness at home and away.
Shami was expected to provide the edge to the Indian attack with Jasprit Bumrah being out of sorts ever since his return from injury. But the right-arm quick was guilty of trying too hard and failing to hit the right lengths consistently. His average of 36.6 simply wasn’t good enough and the only impression he made was in New Zealand’s first innings of the second Test where he bagged a four-for. The 29-year-old was far from his best right through the tour and that will be a cause of concern for the team management.
Well, just like Kohli – India’s talisman with the bat – the team’s biggest gun with the ball failed to fire as well. Bumrah is yet to hit the lofty standards he set before getting injured and that hurt his team badly in the two Tests against New Zealand. The skipper looks to him every time a breakthrough is needed but the right-arm pacer simply wasn’t threatening enough in the series. He bowled the odd delivery that gave a glimpse of his class but he didn’t put any sustained pressure of the Kiwi batsmen. With a World Cup and a tour to Australia coming this year, India would hope this is just a phase and Bumrah will regain his mojo soon enough.