Cynics may scoff at the clean sweep India achieved over a hapless New Zealand at home. However, with the uncertainty that engulfs Indian cricket at the moment, with the next SC hearing on October 17 expected to slash the entire top brass of the BCCI, which in turn has threatened to stop all on-field action, good news on the field was music to the ears.
A team can’t be shouting from rooftops after winning at home, but India can be proud of the fact that they pressed almost all the right buttons to be firmly entrenched as No. 1 side in Tests. Refreshingly, all the three wins didn’t come on ‘doctored’ wickets, as discarded off-spinner Harbhajan Singh would make us believe. In a welcome change from last season, when a poor wicket in Nagpur soured the taste of India’s 3-0 walloping of South Africa, India, under new coach, leg-spin legend Anil Kumble, were prepared to do the hard yards to achieve Test victories at home, rather than bank on rank turners.
The highlight of the series, of course, was the magic produced by R Ashwin, whose mastery of his craft left everyone spellbound. Using flight and guile, the TN tweaker landed the ball consistently outside off stump -the business area for an off-spinner -taking 27 wickets @ merely 17.77 to spell doom for the visitors. He made New Zealand’s main batsman and their captain Kane Williamson his bunny, prising him out four times out of four. From the moment he lost his middle-stump to a vicious turner in the innings of the first Test at Kanpur, Wiliamson lost all his confidence against the bowler on a tour which has dented his reputation.
Ashwin’s dominance in this series, rounded off by a career-best seven for 59 in the final Test, can be gauged by the fact that the next-highest wicket-taker was his ‘partner-in-crime,’ Ravindra Jadeja, who managed ‘just’ 14 wickets in comparison @ 24.07. Many expect this 30-year-old, who became the second-fastest to 200 Test wickets during the series, to touch the 300-wicket mark by the time India wind up their 13-match home season.
SEAMS LIKE A DREAM
One doesn’t expect the seam department to do much at home, but Mohammad Shami and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, in the only Test that he played in, made life miserable for the Kiwis with the new ball too. Shami displayed the value of reversing the ball well in these conditions, taking eight email@example.com.
BATTING COMES GOOD
The wickets weren’t the best to bat on, which means that most of the batsmen deserve a pat on the bat for applying themselves and doing the job well. The top run-scorer was Cheteshwar Pujara (firstname.lastname@example.org), who has been ‘spoken to’ by the team management before the series about showing more intent in the middle. Ajinkya Rahane (email@example.com) sizzled too, particularly during his 188-run knock in Indore, during which he was ready to take blows on the body, even as he resisted the temptation to hook the pacers.
Kohli bounced back from a poor patch with a surprisingly ‘mature’ double-hundred, both in terms of application and the celebration of the milestone. Rohit Sharma postponed the debate over his place to another time with three fifties, but the man who made the real difference with the bat was Wriddhiman Saha, whose twin half-centuries at Kolkata tilted the balance in India’s favour. Gautam Gambhir’s return after a two-year hiatus was promising, and builds up a case for him to be preferred over the inconsistent Shikhar Dhawan.
Captaining in India is relatively an easier job, but Kohli would receive full marks for the way he backed Rohit, which resulted in India playing six specialist batsmen. With his innovative field settings, the decision to un leash pace instead of spin at times, and his calm demeanour when wickets weren’t falling, Kohli showed that he has the makings of a captain who might succeed in all conditions.
THE SLIGHT CONCERN
The champagne, though, can be put on the ice, for a while. For, next up are England, who have beaten India both at home (in 2014), and more critically, in India (in 2012). Ahead of the first Test against England in Rajkot on November 9, Kohli and Kumble do have a few creases to iron out.
For starters, the bowling does look over-reliant on Ashwin. It didn’t matter because this New Zealand team had perhaps the worst players of spin since England came here in 1993, but against a better side, India may need to play five bowlers. In that case, the third spinner, be it leggie Amit Mishra or off-spinner Jayant Yadav, both look undercooked.
It may have made sense to play either of them, and rookie seamer Shardul Thakur, for the sake of exposure, in the third Test.