By Pradyut Hande:
Under the talismanic helmsman-ship of MS Dhoni, Team India successfully quelled the spasmodic challenge put up by an erratic Kiwi outfit to clinch the Test series, 2-0, at home. Granted the fact that the opposition wasn’t exactly the strongest on paper or on the field, but this series was critical on multiple levels for wide ranging reasons. In the absence of stalwarts such as Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Saurav Ganguly, Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh; the Indian team presently finds itself in the throes of a gradual transition that will determine its “future course through the tumultuous waters of international cricket“. Much was expected from the youngsters looking to cement their positions in the side. High on talent, exuberance and ability but low on experience; they rose to the occasion with aplomb.
For starters, India’s batting was relatively consistent throughout the series. The Kiwi pace battery inclusive of Chris Martin (1st Test), Trent Boult, Doug Bracewell and Tim Southee (2nd Test) toiled away on wickets that always kept them interested. The Indian batsmen did enough to counter them but did find themselves gasping for breath from time to time. Gautam Gambhir had a subdued series by his standards and so did his opening partner, Virender Sehwag. Despite getting starts, Sehwag’s impetuous and profligate approach diminished his potency. A veteran of almost 100 Tests, one would have thought that he would have learnt from his foibles. There is a fine demarcation between playing one’s natural game and repeatedly committing hara-kiri. That’s something perhaps Sehwag needs to comprehend and soon. Sachin Tendulkar had a dormant series and was dismissed bowled by three different bowlers. A cause for concern? Perhaps or perhaps not. Only time will tell.
The insipid performances by some of the senior batsmen in the line up was in stark contrast to the sparkling form showed by the likes of Virat Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara and Suresh Raina (to an extent). Kohli continues to mature by leaps and bounds with each progressing series and is rapidly emerging as our best and most consistent batsman across all formats. His unflappable temperament, adaptability and insatiable appetite for runs saw him notch up a century and two half centuries in the three innings he played. Pujara too scored a brilliant 159 in the first Test at Hyderabad, underscoring his sound credentials as a long term Number 3 bat. Skipper MS Dhoni too had a good series, both behind and in front of the stumps; scoring vital runs and leading from the front when the chips were down.
On the bowling front, R Ashvin and Pragyan Ojha bamboozled the often hapless Kiwi batsmen into submission with their flight and guile on varying tracks in Hyderabad and Bengaluru. While Ashvin picked up 18 wickets in the series and walked away with the Man of the Series Award, one must not forget about Ojha’s 13 wickets. The spin twins quite literally hunted in pairs, complementing each other brilliantly. The promising Umesh Yadav bowled a couple of hostile spells but lacked the control to remain consistent. The old warhorse, Zaheer Khan’s statistics for the series does him grave injustice and he ought to consider himself unfortunate not to have picked up more wickets. On the whole, we bowled well as a unit and were penetrative enough to have the Kiwi batsmen guessing on most occasions.
The Indian fielding too looked sprightly with the impetus provided by the young brigade of Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina and Cheteshwar Pujara. Virender Sehwag made slip catching seem ridiculously easy at times. MS Dhoni’s field placements were astute as he was quick to gauge the pace of the wickets and batsmen’s weaknesses. He backed it up with timely bowling changes and smart glove work whilst keeping.
All in all, despite the best efforts of the Kiwis, the Indians were simply too puissant on home soil; winning the first Test by an Innings and 115 runs and the second by 5 Wickets. Cricket maybe a game of glorious uncertainties, but what is certain is that the future of Indian cricket definitely burns incandescent with the “young flame” of a new tomorrow. The boots of the departed maybe too big to fill, but these youngsters can certainly strive to emulate their courage, character and consistency in the years to come.