September 27, 2016 2:16:29 am
“On the scorecard it looks like a biggish defeat, but there were a couple of moments that I would reflect on as where the game turned slightly more in their [India’s] favour. [The defeat] is a combination of us not quite being at our best at certain times, and they played very well.”— kane Williamson on where New Zealand lost the match
Imagine Test cricket as tennis. Let’s suppose five days are five sets and sessions are games. The strategy should be simple: corner more games than your rival to win sets, pocket more sets to take the match. New Zealand looked they were two-sets up when they won four out of the first five sessions at the Green Park stadium in Kanpur. But there are more variables in a Test match than in a game of tennis. One is the surface. If a five-day game on a typical Indian wicket were to be seen through a Tennis prism, it would be like a match beginning at Wimbledon and ending on the clay courts at Roland Garros.
On Day Three, the Kanpur surface had deteriorated enough to put doubts in the minds of New Zealand batsmen. In the first two sessions, they lost wickets in two bunches with a brief recovery in between and ended up conceding a 56-run lead, and more importantly momentum. A buoyant India then laid into their deflated bowlers. It would be four-four in terms of sessions won by the end of day three, but India were decisively in the driver’s seat. It was on Saturday therefore, and not on Monday, that the first match was lost.
“Being over here in these hot conditions, being able to remain focussed for a long period because you know if you put the ball in the area for long enough, you’ll get your rewards. That’s what the Indian team showed us.”— Williamson on his spinners’ performance
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It’s the young Mitchell Santner’s first Test series in India. And he has shown ample promise with the ball. Being a left-arm spinner who fires the ball in, he was saddled with the expectations of doing what Ravindra Jadeja day in and day out in these conditions. He succeeded, taking five wickets in the match, one fewer than Jadeja. He also learned quickly as his dismissal of Murali Vijay in the second innings suggested. Santner bowled one at good length outside off and made it turn away. The next ball landed at the spot, but went straight. Vijay, playing for turn was, trapped in front. A typical Jadeja wicket. A bit more accuracy might see Santner become even more effective.
But he also needs support from the other end, the kind which Jadeja gets from Ravichandran Ashwin, and vice-versa. He needs someone who can complement his bowling and not allow the pressure to be released. Ish Sodhi and Mark Craig gave away too many put-me-away balls in the second innings. The offie Craig at least was tight in the first innings, and in hindsight his side strain that eventually ruled him out of the series might have hampered his bowling in the second. The leg-spinner Sodhi bowled with little control. He will need to get his act together soon if New Zealand are to be a threat with the ball. The Blackcaps will also hope Jeetan Patel, who joins the squad in place of Craig, brings his Warwickshire form to Kolkata.
“There were a lot of good things to come out of this game, and for a number of players it is their first time batting in these sort of conditions. There will be a lot of lessons learnt, reflecting on those and looking to apply the skills that worked for a period of time for a lot longer. That’s certainly what the Indian players do, it is very important.”— Williamson on the batting takeaways from the match
In the run-up to the series, New Zealand’s batting looked it rested entirely on the shoulders of one man: Kane Williamson. Ross Taylor is another star performer and a senior member, but he is inconsistent and tends to have a suspect footwork in the early part of his innings. Williamson came out with reputation intact, having made 75 in the first innings before being bowled by an almost unplayable delivery by Ashwin. In the second innings too, he was looking serene when an Ashwin off-break spun big and caught him in front of the wicket. Opener Tom Latham stepped up with a half-century in the first essay, but was dismissed in both innings in an identical fashion: he couldn’t read an Ashwin delivery that looked like an off-break but didn’t turn. BJ Watling, too, didn’t look like a rookie against spin.
However, there were two New Zealanders who came out of this match with their reputations enhanced. Last year, during his debut Test, the 24-year-old Santner gave a glimpse of his batting potential. It was the pink-ball Test in Adelaide. He negated the seaming conditions by showing tremendous application, something his senior teammates didn’t. Exactly the same could be said about him at the end of Kanpur Test.
He played within himself and used his long limbs to reach at the pitch of the ball. His 32 in the first innings and 71 in the second made him the first New Zealander in the last five years to score over 100 runs and take a five-for in the same match. On both occasions, he was batting alongside Ronchi, easily the best player of spin from either side in Kanpur. Murali Vijay and Pujara could also be the contenders, but they were not making their runs against Ashwin and Jadeja. Against the most potent spin attack of this generation — at least in sub-continental conditions — Ronchi was light on his feet. He was not once caught in two minds: either he went forward or went back. And he attacked them — playing cuts, sweeps and lofted shots — forcing them to change their lines and lengths. He scored 38 in the first innings, but was victim of a poor lbw decision. In the second, he made the highest score of the match, 80, when he played a poor shot — a sweep against the turn — off Jadeja. It could be argued it was more a case of him throwing his wicket away than the bowler earning it. And Ronchi knew what he had just done as he remained there on one knee, shaking his head in disbelief.
“When we tour, we know that if you’re 1-0 down after the first game, things keep getting more difficult from then on, just in terms of your recovery, preparation. Just the mental side of going into the next game. So the first game of the series is very important, any series that you play – whether at home or away. Whoever has the first advantage over the other team, they will go into the second Test feeling more confident for sure.”— Virat Kohli on psychological advantage over NZ after 1-0
It’s interesting that Kohli thinks this way. In Sri Lanka, where India’s current 11-match unbeaten streak began a year go, they had lost the first Test in Galle before bouncing back to soundly win the three-match series. England, when they won on these shore in 2012, had lost the first match in Ahmedabad, before winning the next two. And New Zealand have a habit of bouncing back from big defeats.
During their seven series unbeaten streak under Brendon McCullum, they often lost Test matches, and lost them by big margins, but they always came back stronger. Facing a rampant Pakistan in 2014 in Abu Dhabi, they lost the first Test by 248 runs. They drew the second and secured an innings win in the third. A year later in England, they got hammered by 124 runs in the first Test at Lord’s, but paid back at Headingley with a 199-run victory. It’s a cliche that failure is the pillar of success. But it’s true in the Blackcaps’ case. The foundations of their achievements in the last three years was laid in Cape Town in January 2013.They were shot out for 45 in the first innings.
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