India suffered their first defeat of the World Test Championship in Wellington as New Zealand crushed the Men in Blue by 10 wickets. From the first session of the match, the visitors were always on the back foot and could never pose a challenge. It was one of the rare test matches under Virat Kohli's captaincy that India has surrendered so easily in.
Now the focus shifts to Christchurch as India desperately attempt to avoid a series defeat. The World Number one test team will need to put up a much-improved performance to level the series.
However, the team management has to address some major concerns to make that possible. A lot of talk has been around Virat Kohli and Jasprit Bumrah's poor form. In the first Test, the Indian captain only managed scores of 2 and 19. Meanwhile, Bumrah looked completely off rhythm as he took just one wicket in 26 overs and went for 88 runs. With both failing in the ODI series too, it is a definite cause for worry. When a team's best batter and bowler are both struggling, it is no surprise that any team is likely to struggle.
However, India's struggles run much deeper. Apart from their two star players, Ravi Shastri has various other problems to deal with which hamper India's hopes of getting back to winning ways.
#3 Ishant Shamra's fitness
This morning news has broken out that Ishant Sharma has suffered yet another ankle injury and will have to miss the second Test. While there is still no confirmation from the team management, the reports indicate that Sharma's absence is more or less confirmed.
Sharma was the only Indian pacer who got his line and lengths right at the Basin Reserve ground as he took a five-wicket haul in the first innings. For a team full of players struggling for confidence losing an in-form player is a severe blow.
Sharma has become a vital cog of this incredible Indian pace attack which has taken Test cricket by storm over the last couple of years. Under Virat Kohli's captaincy, the Delhi-pacer has transformed his career having taken 107 wickets in 36 matches. His average of 25.46 since the change of leadership is also significantly higher than his career average of 32.39.
Moreover, Sharma's contribution to the team is a lot higher than what is quantifiable. His ability to bowl long spells and keep an end tied up without giving away runs allows attacking bowlers like Bumrah and Mohammed Shami to aim for wickets at all times. His absence is certainly going to be a major blow.
#2 Ashwin's batting concerns
New Zealand managing to make 348 in their first innings despite struggling at 225-7 was certainly the turning point of the series opener. Contributions of 44 and 38 from Kyle Jamieson and Trent Boult batting at number nine and 11 respectively played a pivotal role in giving the hosts the upper hand in the match. On the other hand for India, apart from Mohammed Shami 21 in the first innings and Ishant Sharma's knock of 12 in the second, none of India's last four managed to get into double digits.
The expectations were certainly of Ravichandran Ashwin who has four Test centuries to his name. However, the off-spinner could only manage scores of zero and four coming to bat at number eight when the team was desperately in need of runs.
In fact, Ashwin's failure was neither a surprise or anomaly as his batting form has consistently gotten worse over the years. Since the start of 2017, Ashwin has only scored 573 runs in 36 innings at a below-par average of 17.36. He only has one-half century to his name in the same period.
While it is necessary to pick a specialist for each department but it is worth remembering that Ravindra Jadeja was left out for the playing XI for this encounter. In stark contrast, Jadeja's batting has grown leaps and bounds in recent times. The left-handed all-rounder averages 49.80 with the bat since 1st January 2017 having scored 996 runs in 31 innings.
With not much to separate him and Ashwin with the ball especially outside the subcontinent, one does wonder whether getting a better batsman and fielder in Jadeja will serve the team better.
#1 Cheteshwar Pujara's struggles in New Zealand
Apart from Virat Kohli, if there is one batsman that the Men in Blue are dependent on in the longer format of the game, it is Cheteshwar Pujara. The stability that he provides at number three holds the batting unit together and gives the others a platform to build on. Not surprisingly, he was the star of India's historic series win in Australia where he was the top-scorer with 521 runs.
Unfortunately, he did not deliver in Wellington as he could manage scores of 11 and 11. A closer look suggests that New Zealand has not been a happy hunting place for the Saurashtran. In the three Test matches he has played there, Pujara has just scored 82 runs in six innings and does not even have a single half-century to his name.
Incidentally, in similar swinging conditions in England, his record does not inspire much confidence either. Despite playing nine test matches, the right-hander averages just 29.41 in England and makes one wonder whether top-quality swing bowling is his Achilles Heel.
In the summer of 2018, Pujara had a revival in England with a splendid century in the fourth Test match which followed an important half-century in India's victory at Nottingham. Virat Kohli will hope Pujara can once again prove his doubters wrong in tough conditions and help the team put a big total on the board.