India's dream run in the ICC World Test Championship came to an end as they lost convincingly by ten wickets against New Zealand at Wellington. This result was not completely expected as this Indian team after their dominance in Australia last year, let alone the manner in which they crumbled as a batting unit.
But the simple question to be asked is if India are to be blamed for this defeat. Or as skipper Virat Kohli mentioned in the post match press-conference, the loss be admitted and accepted that the opposition was much better in this game. There is no harm in giving the Kiwis the credit they deserve as their batting in the safe hands of Kane Williamson flourished along with their tail and then the bowlers did the damage in both the innings.
Yes, India must learn from their mistakes and have only four days to reflect and bounce back from this loss. Kohli might be be seething and will not be happy with what transpired at Wellington. But this is also a positive wake up call that despite the defeat that the Indian management and fans must pay attention to.
#1 Picking the right team for the conditions matters the most
So far India, since the inception of the ICC WTC, haven't been questioned too much on team selection. The players they picked were perfectly suited for the conditions - be in the Caribbean or in home against South Africa and Bangladesh. But that was not the case at Wellington.
With the extremely talented and gifted Shubman Gill tonking a double ton for India A against New Zealand A only a few weeks ago in similar conditions, it was stupefying to see him being left out for Prithwi Shaw. There is no doubts regarding Shaw's stroke making ability, but where India underestimated the swinging conditions on offer at Wellington, Gill was the right option to open with Mayank Aggarwal.
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Now that Shaw's struggles against the swinging ball came to the fore where he was opened up by Tim Southee and Trent Boult, perhaps Gill be given a chance to play at Christchurch. If India don't want to expose Gill at the top of the order on his debut, he can bat at the No. 6 position and allow Hanuma Vihari to open with Aggarwal. That would make their batting look far more equipped for these conditions.
#2 Over-dependence on Virat Kohli and Jasprit Bumrah can prove to be fatal
India's successes overseas under Kohli's leadership have come on the back of the skipper dominating with the bat supported magnificently by Cheteshwar Pujara in Australia and by Jasprit Bumrah spearheading the bowling attack who has been complemented by Ishant Sharma and Mohammed Shami.
Both Kohli and Bumrah are human after all, they can't always perform to the best of their abilities. Kohli is going through a rough patch in New Zealand but that might have to do with some rather hectic scheduling by the BCCI. It hardly leaves any opportunity for players like Kohli to rest and come out stronger.
Who can possibly explain starting a T20I series in New Zealand three days after the completion of the Indian home season. It's a bonanza for cricket fans but to think about the mental and physical toll this can take on the players as they have to battle this fatigue to go with jet lag. Not that it mattered much in the T20Is as they thumped the hosts 5-0, but the wheels started falling away in the ODIs and then in the first Test.
Kohli clearly would be kicking himself for the shots he played in both the innings at Wellington as they were clearly not what we have got used to seeing from him. His old nemesis of fishing outside the off-stump flared up again and also his over-willingness to attack the short ball proved to be his downfall.
Bumrah like Kohli, is a victim off his own brilliance. Ever since he returned to the Indian team post an injury layoff, he hasn't been at his usual world-beating best. His lone wicket in the first innings was his only wicket in New Zealand since the ODIs started. Clearly, the team need to understand that probably he is still yet to find his 100% rhythm and that's where the others, apart from Ishant Sharma, failed to back Bumrah.
In the next game, this bowling unit as they have shown in the past seven Tests, need to hunt in packs and that would certainly boost the confidence of someone like Bumrah to come back into full form.
#3 Is it time to move on from Ravichandran Ashwin in overseas Tests?
It's very hard to admit but India may need to explore options other than Ravichandran Ashwin in overseas conditions. His track record in Tests overseas pales in comparison to his outstanding match-winning abilities in sub-continental conditions. He was preferred to Ravindra Jadeja for the first Test at Wellington because there were more left handers in the Kiwi team, alongside his more reassuring batting abilities.
However, his dismissal in the second innings especially was a big let down. He is a far better batsman than that, although in the first innings he got a snorter of a delivery that could have dismissed the best of batsmen. While the likes of Bumrah and Shami were finding it hard to create an impact, even Ashwin was at best only keeping the scoring down. He was almost neutralized, granted conditions weren't too conducive for spin but a bowler of his quality could have done better.
Probably, it's time for India to go in with Jadeja as the lone spinner overseas as his batting has improved, his bowling has become tighter, and his fielding is the best going around in world cricket. Maybe we need to look at the overall benefits someone like Jadeja would bring to the table when the team plays overseas, and play both Ashwin and Jadeja in sub-continent.