22nd May: Sunrisers v Rajasthan Royals, 14:30 GMT
24th-28th May: 2nd Test, Headingley
Call us cynical but cricket lovers are not really rejoicing that India has won a series in New Zealand for the first time in 41 years. Sure, many are happy but there is also cause for dejection. For many believed that Team India had gone to just to re-emphasise their growing status as definitive future world champions, but the 1-0 victory margin in Tests has done anything but that.
The news channels here in India have been harping all day about history being created. Well, in the true sense, it has only been re-made. It was first done in 1967-68 when Tiger Pataudi’s men registered India’s first overseas win over the same opponents. But compared to the euphoria of that win, this one pales in comparison for it was just another win setting the record straight, nothing more.
Sure, the team is progressing all the time, moving from strength to strength, but the number of question marks thrown up by this series is in fact quite high. Against any other team in contention for the world number one position, India wouldn’t have been able to exert themselves as much. Yes, what is being implied here is that given their inexperience it was the humongous number of mistakes that the Black Caps made in each session that allowed India to score a first victory over there in four decades.
|Dhoni (left) is all smiles but he has problems to solve... © REUTERS / Action Images|
Let’s begin at the top of the order itself. Virender Sehwag averages just 37 in his last 12 Test innings without a hundred. Under Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s leadership, he has been enjoying his game a lot more and that is of utmost importance in his case, as displayed against England at Chennai. What is a problem though is when he tends to relax more than needed, hiding behind his natural-game tag and fails to identify an impending loss of form. The last time he did so, when he always made the excuse of going for shots and not curbing his natural instinct, he lost his place in the side after the 2007 World Cup. It isn’t that bad as yet but it won’t take much time if he continues in the same vein.
All Sehwag needs to do is put his head down for a bit longer than he is currently doing and put a price on his wicket again, like he did when he made his comeback against Australia early last year. Besides that the top order didn’t really face a problem for Gambhir, Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman were always going to prove a handful for the inexperienced bowling line-up of the hosts.
But even their collective success proved to be a point in distress as one came down to the contributions made by Yuvraj Singh and Dinesh Karthik. There will be a time soon enough when the stalwarts of Indian cricket will depart the stage one by one but who is there to pick up the reigns from then on? Both Singh and Karthik showed that they are fallible against pressure applied by some quality bowling and that is true in the case of almost every middle order batsman that is trying to make it to the Indian test team. Be it the Rohit Sharmas, the Suresh Rainas or the Virat Kohlis, none of them is showing the assuredness required to keep the label of the best batting line-up in world cricket.
And that brings us to the importance of MS Dhoni to this team. Long ago, Sachin Tendulkar was the focal point around which the team revolved and that point may now indeed be the Indian captain. For it is only when you lose something, you realise its full value or potential as in some cases. Here, Dhoni’s withdrawal from the second Test match meant that the sting in the tail of the Indians was just missing and Sehwag’s inept captaincy almost brought about a series revival for the hosts.
Just what was Sehwag thinking during that game is a question one has tried to answer many times but there are no answers forthcoming. It was totally a peek into the times which, heavens forbid, would indeed prevail if the team were to lose their charismatic skipper to a long term injury. For at present there is no clear alternate skipper in waiting as shown by Sehwag’s misadventure at the helm and Yuvraj’s inconsistency.
Add to it the fact that Dhoni has an ability to bat as per the situation and change gears at will, and it is only clear that he is slowly becoming indispensable to his team. In the ODIs, more often than not, it was his calm and composed demeanor that got the team through the most trying situations and they were able to triumph 3-1 there as well.
But the skipper has his flaws too. Probably he was too busy trying to emulate Pataudi that he forgot to notice that 21 wickets had fallen on the first two days at Wellington and there was no way that the hapless New Zealanders would have chased even 450 on the last two days of the game on the same pitch. So what was the need to keep batting on and waste precious overs which could have been employed to score a rather convincing 2-0 win than a pale 1-0 one?
What that showed was mistrust in the bowlers’ ability, which is in fact not misplaced. Zaheer Khan was peerless and Harbhajan Singh was lively throughout. But it was the other pieces of the jigsaw that cause worry. Ishant Sharma’s inexperience showed as he failed to adjust to the wind blowing almost everywhere in New Zealand. Munaf Patel always gives the impression that he is too raw and hasn’t played enough, thus having an off game every alternate match. Thanks to the BCCI there were no practice games to even test Balaji and Dhawal Kulkarni’s mettle.
Yes, an overseas series has been won, both in ODIs and Tests. The team has had a wonderful tour and that rarely happens in Indian cricket. But celebrate at your own peril for the batting and bowling wasn’t really tested. Enough leeway was given to New Zealand to get a shoe in that door, which the Indians never really closed on their opponents. Had it been the Australians, the South Africans or even the Sri Lankans, they would have made sure that they got a foothold and then barged right through that same door.
© Cricket World 2009