The first Test match at Wellington between India and New Zealand was a true test of where a team stood as regards the game of cricket. India, the number one side in the world at present, was completely routed in every department of the game. The Black Caps, may not boast of the skill and ability that some of the Indian players have showcased over time, but a well-constructed plan was all it took them to beat their strong opponents.
The memories of the famous bodyline series come to mind. Then England captain Douglas Jardine in 1932 used the round the wicket ploy to destroy Australia with short-pitch bowling, supported by a strong leg-side field. With no field restrictions and the modern protection of helmets, chest and elbow guards, the strategy was criticized for not playing the game fairly.
However, cricket is now far from the gentleman’s game of the days gone by, but with a much larger stake to play for, winning has become a very important ingredient for more reasons than one.
In today’s world, there is no place for a loser. New Zealand out thought the Indian side with a tactic used nearly 88 years ago. This round the wicket ploy may have been dangerous then, but is very much in the rule book today, especially as the armory that a batsman has, does protect him sufficiently from any major mishap.
The pleasant sight was to see a backward and forward short leg. These were fielding spots that were gradually disappearing in modern cricket. Earlier, the thought of being hit on the ribs or body, induced batsmen to play at balls aimed at them which resulted in close leg-side catches. The protective gear made this redundant and New Zealand has now opened a can of worms that may become a popular tactic for others to follow suit.
The quality of bats has made the off-side play a joy for most batsmen. Apart from an unlucky edge in the slips, any shot played seems to speed over or reach the fence with ease. Therefore, playing shots on the leg side does not give the batsmen the same leverage of the full face of the bat as they get playing on the off. The leg-side negative attack was previously used by spinners on the pretext of them exploiting the rough, but it will soon become popular among the speedsters as well.
A two-Test series is too short for a team playing overseas. A side needs to get acclimatized mentally and physically. The limited-overs version of the game is an entirely different ball game as Test cricket requires sustainability, stamina and tactical maneuvering.
The Indian batsmen, one hopes, have spent their time practicing to counter the leg-side attack that they will be confronted by in the next Test match. The worry, however, is the bowlers, who still seem to be not comfortable with the length they need to bowl in order to be effective.
That is why a five-match series is the best way to actually decide upon a true winner. The initial home side’s advantage becomes an irrelevant factor as the series goes on with players adjusting their game accordingly.
The Indian cricket team, even though they have played so well in the past year, had to deal with severe criticism from the very media that had put them on a pedestal earlier. Their two top-line performers Virat Kohli and Jasprit Bumrah’s failure became the most debatable subject and one felt sorry as they were identified as the cause of India’s defeat.
The time is short but with the talent and skill that this Indian side possesses, one can feel that they will come out with all guns blazing. India has the firepower to win and now know their opponents’ plans in store for them as well.
Cricket is a game of mental strength too and the true potential and assessment of this Indian side will hinge on it. The match at Christchurch at the Hagley Oval should be a super thriller as Kohli-led side is not one to buckle down under pressure.
The Indian women’s side in the ongoing T20 World Cup in Australia has shown how they have grown mentally by winning three close games against their opponents. The ball is now in the men’s court to do the same.