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New Zealand’s tour of India 2016: India start the home season in emphatic fashion

India won its 500th Test rather easily against New Zealand and this should set up a great home season for the Asian side.

Virat Kohli
Virat Kohli led India to a Test win over New Zealand (Image from West Indies tour)

Gather around kids, grab your tea & biscuits and settle down. I am about to tell you the tale of India’s 500th Test match - 1193 runs, 35 wickets on a typical sub-continental pitch played between two teams displaying perfect spirit and led by two of the most iconic batsman of their eras.

There is a beautiful symmetry about the two Ks – Kane and Kohli. Kane Williamson and Virat Kohli have both risen through the ranks, right from the days of leading their respective sides in ICC Under-19 WC to leading the national Test side. The two most prolific batsmen of their era, both fairly new to Test captaincy and taking on one of the important Test tours of their careers.

The start

Kl Rahul
KL Rahul had a great strike-rate in both innings

Stephen Fleming believes that the turning point in the game was when the coin landed in favour of the home side. Going by their recent form in the sub-continent, the Kiwis were excellent at reading the pitches. Kane Williamson made some clever moves, ask yourself this, when was the last time you saw a touring side packing more spinners in the playing eleven than the Indian side?

KL Rahul is perhaps the quickest learner in the side right now, striking at 82 and 76 in the two innings, he provides impetus right from the start. With centuries in all three formats of the game, he is a contender in every format and it looks like Shikhar Dhawan might have to wait a while before Rahul puts a foot wrong.

If there is one batsman whose place as well as batting position is fixed in this side, it has to be Murali Vijay. He bats and bats and bats and then bats some more. It is simply amazing to see how he balances his temperament given that he has the game for counter attacking as well as the more traditional wait-n-watch approach. Seasons change, venues change, bowling attacks change – Vijay’s leave to pacers and footwork against spinners remains his hallmark.

Pujara is interesting, interesting because you would never question his commitment or talent but despite all of that he still has not exactly cemented the place in the side. Pujara will score runs in domestic matches even if he is 60 years of age, there is a certainty in this. After a superb start to his Test career, the trajectory seems to have flattened a bit.

Perfectly all right that Kumble and Kohli had a chat with him and asked him to score at a quicker rate. The game is changing and the pace is quickening, you can afford to take your time but then you have to tick along at a decent pace.

Allan Wilkins narrated during the commentary that Pujara admitted that despite scoring runs in Duleep trophy, he feels he still needs to start all over in Tests, modify his game and score quickly. What a breath of fresh air it was to see him get a move along in the second innings and scoring a flurry of runs. Simply put, Pujara is no King(Kohli), he is no Monk(Vijay), he is the duty bound merchant and finally looks like this season the trade is starting to flourish for him.

The reply

You expected NZ to crumble, you expected Williamson to be the lone man fighting with support from perhaps one and only one batsman (this case it was Tom Latham). Yes, all this happened. But something else happened too. Firstly, the Aussies would wish that Luke Ronchi shed the Kiwi Black and don the Aussie Green & Gold. He would certainly be a handful when the Oz come touring next and be chewed up on the dustbowls. Ronchi plays his natural attacking game and as they say – Often offence is the best defence.

Secondly, can we please have Mitchell Santner’s DOB checked because he simply is mature beyond the 24 years he claims to be. He digs in at the crease with minimal fuss and mostly that is just it. With 103 runs coming off the most balls survived by any Kiwi batsman, he certainly has shown the way to play for time as well as score runs.

Also read: Have New Zealand found a replacement for Daniel Vettori in Mitchell Santner?

And did I mention, he is chiefly in the team as a left arm spinner and he does a very decent of that too. Daniel Vettori, could you please take this lad under your wing? 

And Kane, we know that ball from Ashwin was virtually unplayable. That hint of a smile said a lot.

Fitting into Anil Kumble’s shoes would always be an arduous task but Record Chandran Ashwin (as Sehwag put it for being the second fastest to 200 scalps) is definitely coming up nicely. The days of wild experimentation such as mimicking Sunil Narine seem to be finally over and he has settled in a nice comfortable action.

The regular off-spin, the carrom-ball and flicker are beautifully disguised with absolutely no change in the bowling action. Key performances in Sri Lanka and West Indies have certainly definitely buoyed his confidence and it shows in his body language. Ashwin looks on song to become spin’s monolith. The deliveries to dismiss Hashim Amla and Kane Williamson (in this Test) are any connoisseur’s delight. There is a reason why Kohli described his as “Priceless” and I don’t want to insult your intelligence by providing an explanation for that.

Ravindra Jadeja for some reason always seems like a controversial inclusion. Some would argue that Amit Mishra should have been in the playing eleven. Jadeja, correction Sir Jadeja, laid all those doubts to rest when he became the only player to score a fifty and claim five wickets in a team’s 500th Test.

Ravindra Jadeja
Ravindra Jadeja (L) was the man-of-the-match in the first Test

He will remember this particular man-of-the-match for a long time. Also, his hilarious interview gave us a peek as to why he is so effective on Indian pitches. The mantra – tons and tons of hours bowling on the dry, flat, breaking pitches.

India piles on

Can I copy paste? No? All right then

KL Rahul dominates but perishes, The Monk looks like he would stand at the crease till the end of time, Pujara accumulates runs and Kohli missed out (Yes, it can happen). Rahane and Sharma act like responsible students submit their assignments thereby extending India’s lead. Sir Jadeja strolls to the pitch and just to make sure he gets a man of the match smokes a fifty (whacks two sixes of Ish Sodhi, Hello Ish, Welcome to India!)

For NZ, ThuderBoult proved good in bits, often moving the ball both ways but he would have loved the pitch to do more. Wagner showed some steel, bowling his natural short of the length ball with intent and gets Kohli.

Santner, Sodhi & Craig claim 8 of the 15 India wickets to fall. The Kiwis have the strength when it comes to numbers but not quality. None the less, they made most of the options they got and we give it to them for that.

The end

India having set a mammoth 434 runs for Kiwis had ruled defeat out. Interesting to note that the highest fourth innings total at Green Park is merely 190 odd.

Barring Ronchi and Santner no other batter got going and defeat was obvious. The highlight would definitely be Mohammad Shami running in hard and making the ball talk with his reverse swinging skills. A pitch where you expected the slower bowlers to finish the job for India, it was refreshing to see the pacer continue his good performance.

Injury Worries

Guptill does not look 100% with his shoulder. New Zealand is already missing the experience of Tim Southee and with Craig ruled out for the series, it will be interesting to see how they conjure the playing XI. They can take heart from the performances of Ronchi, Santner, Latham, Williamson, Boult and can only improve from here. The Kiwis are definitely a team that can punch above its weight and cannot be taken for granted.

For India, KL Rahul is a concern, he seems to have pulled up a muscle in his leg and did not take the field in the second innings. Give his form, Indians fans would hope that he recovers quickly.

500th Test

India won its 300th Test under skipper Tendulkar and won its 400th Test under the captaincy of Dravid and as if by poetic justice, Virat Kohli led India to victory in its 500th Test in an emphatic fashion of 197 runs.

The team looks fairly settled and even though Ishant Sharma/Amit Mishra would we inching to get a taste of the action, it seems unlikely that the winning combination is changed. India enjoys great bench strength at the moment. Add Gautam Gambhir to the mix and you know how intense the competition is.

India is the 4th country to play 500 Test matches after Australia, England and West Indies. The 500th Test holds especially more significance as it marks the beginning of a long season at home – 13 Test matches. Indian team is out with a mission, to re-gain the top spot in Test rankings. The team certainly has the talent, the discipline and can put in the performances needed to be world leaders.

Here is hoping for a gripping contest in the second Test match.

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