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New Zealand thrashing a dent on India's No.1 status

  • India's abject surrender in New Zealand left massive question marks over their number one status in Test matches
ANALYST
Feature
Modified 03 Mar 2020, 15:58 IST

Loss in New Zealand is a setback for India
Loss in New Zealand is a setback for India

When India arrived in New Zealand, they were actually seen as the favourites to win the Test series. India were undefeated in the World Test Championship going into the series while the Kiwis had been brutally crushed by Australia. However, India's abject surrender in New Zealand left massive question marks over their number one status in Test matches.

For a team to be truly number one, they need to win in all conditions against all sorts of opponents. This is what the West Indian team of the 1970s and 1980s did so well. Australia did go down to India in 2001, but they conquered the final frontier three years later. Even South Africa beat India in India 2-0 at their peak.

Indian teams of recent past have struggled to maintain the same tempo while playing in India or abroad. If you look at MS Dhoni's India, they achieved their number one status following a series of home wins, but failed once they stepped out of their comfort zone, beaten mercilessly in England and Australia.

Virat Kohli's India seem to be treading a similar path. They lost in South Africa, England and now New Zealand. Even the maiden Test series triumph in Australia came against a weak side, missing big names like David Warner and Steve Smith due to their bans over the involvement in the ball-tampering scandal.

Experienced batsmen let India down
Experienced batsmen let India down

Team India's performance in New Zealand was particularly disappointing because they had the men who could have turned the tide in the visitors' favour. India were unlucky that the in-form Rohit Sharma was ruled out due to injury. At the same time, the lack of intent from Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane, India's two most solid Test batsmen, was surprising.

Agreed, Pujara and Rahane are not the most aggressive batsmen around in world cricket. However, they needed to adopt a slightly more positive mindset against the New Zealand bowlers. By allowing the Kiwi bowlers to dominate, India played into the opponents' hands and made the task tougher for themselves. Pujara's continued lack of big runs post-Australia should begin to worry India now.

Also see – World Test Championship Schedule

The series also saw Kohli struggle big time with only 38 runs in four innings. However, one cannot really point a finger at the Indian skipper. It has been the first time in five years that he has had such a horrendous run, the last such disaster being in England in 2014. The series only demonstrated that Kohli is also human at the end of the day.

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New Zealand outplayed India in the two Tests
New Zealand outplayed India in the two Tests

What Kohli's failure did do was raise questions over India's over-dependence on their captain in extremely challenging conditions. Of course, that is not the case as Pujara and Rahane have won games for India away from home. It was just the fact three pedigreed batsmen with amazing Test records faltering in unison was something India would not have expected especially considering that India are the number one team in the world.

In view of their capitulation in New Zealand, India's upcoming tour of Australia will assume greater significance. Unlike in 2018-19, the Aussies will have an extremely strong outfit this time around. Smith and Warner and back among the thick of things, and there is also the newfound hero Marnus Labuschagne. The presence of such quality batsmen will make the bowling attack comprising Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon look all the more dangerous.

The task ahead for India will be really tough from here onwards. They must prove their versatility under all circumstances or be prepared to hand over the number one tag to a more worthy contender.

Published 03 Mar 2020, 12:49 IST
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