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India have accomplished a series win in New Zealand after four decades. Here is the report card

Tuesday, April 07, 2022

Evaluation Time for Team India

Arun G

Just like India’s win in the 1967-68 series in New Zealand was the result of team work, so too was the 1-0 win over the Kiwis in the just concluded Test series. Several players in the MS Dhoni-led team stood up at various times and contributed to ensure India won their first series in New Zealand in 41 years.

Just like we do at the end of every India series, we present to you a report card on the players who took part in the Test series:

Grade A+

Gautam Gambhir and Zaheer Khan - The foundations on which India built the 1-0 win over the Kiwis.

Gambhir’s performance in the series has mandated him to be called the second ‘Wall’ of Indian cricket. He got starts in four of the six innings in the Test series, and on each of those four occasions, he made it count. With Virender Sehwag not contributing much with the bat, the onus fell on Gambhir to get India off to good starts and set the platform for the middle order – and did he do it wonderfully? 445 runs in the series – that was the fourth time in as many series that he had accumulated more than 300 runs in a series – he’s quickly established the reputation of being a dependable opener. One got to see the two different facets of his batting in this series – his 436-minute epic in the Napier Test, where he curbed his natural instincts and played a conservative brand of Test cricket, is being rated as one of the best innings played by Indian openers overseas, while his 167 in the final innings in Wellington was the usual aggressive kind of knock one will associate with the Delhi lad.

If it was Gambhir with the bat, it was Zaheer Khan who delivered for India with the ball. Zaheer – MS Dhoni’s go-to man in the series - gave India an early breakthrough in every one of the five innings India bowled in the Test series. His third-most successful series – with 13 wickets – Zaheer showed why he is being rated India’s best bowler currently. Though he was used in short spells of 6-7 overs mostly, he met with success most of the time. Bringing to the fore all his experience, he used the crease well, hit the deck hard at times (even breaking the 140 kph barrier at times), used the angles to good effect and used the short delivery judiciously and to good effect. His four-wicket burst on the second morning of the final Test set the match up for India to push for a 2-0 series win, but some poor tactics and the weather Gods ensured the hosts would escape with a draw.

Grade A

Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Harbhajan Singh

While Gambhir and Zaheer were the star cast, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Harbhajan Singh made for the perfect support cast.

Despite this in all probability being his last tour of New Zealand, it was the Tendulkar of old at work in the three-Test series. 344 runs in five innings at an average of 68.80 won’t perhaps tell you the story. The Little Master got a sparkling century in the first innings of the Hamilton Test – his 160 was an absolute master class – studded with plenty of stunning shots. He got two other half-centuries, but just when he looked set for yet another three-figure score, he would be dismissed because of a lapse in concentration. He played a part with the ball too; his two-wicket burst on the final day gave India the much needed breakthrough they were desperately looking for to push for a win at Wellington.

Dravid scored a century for Canterbury in the warm-up match leading up to the Test series and carried that form into the Tests as well. Although he was not as prolific as he used to be in the years gone by – in terms of the quantum of runs – he still the third highest run scorer for India with 314 runs. As always, he put a heavy price on his wicket and the Kiwis found it tough to dislodge him; he scored four half-centuries in six innings and batted in excess of 1000 minutes in the six innings put together. He was unlucky at times as well, as he was at the receiving end of some poor umpiring decisions. He finished the tour smiling though – as he surpassed Mark Waugh’s record of 181 Test catches and now stands as the most successful catcher in Test cricket.

Though conditions in New Zealand aren’t known to be spinner-friendly, Harbhajan Singh turned up at the party and finished the leading wicket-taker from both sides; his 16 wickets in three Tests are two clear of Chris Martin’s 14 wickets – the second most successful wicket-taker in the series. The Turbanator was disappointing in spells – including in the first innings of the first Test and in the second Test, where he struggled on a flat batting track. As far as his moments were concerned, his six-wicket haul in the second innings at Hamilton was one of the two pillars on which the Indian win was based, as also the seven wickets in the final Test which almost clinched the match for India. He has often been found criticized of not performing overseas, but on this occasion Harbhajan did almost everything right; he bowled round the stumps – something he has been reluctant to do in the past, flighted the ball and used the doosra and drifter effectively. Was a handy contributor with the bat – his 60 in the first innings of the final Test, after India were reduced to 204 for 6, was an invaluable contribution.

Grade B+

VVS Laxman and MS Dhoni

One century, two half-centuries, one start and one poor score – that’s Laxman’s Test series in brief. This was the Laxman we all know – he was as fluent as he has always known to be, but also flirted with danger. Thrice in the series he was out caught in the slip cordon – attempting to drive one pitched outside the off stump, and on one other occasion – in the final innings, he received a peach of a delivery that sneaked through the gate and crashed into his stumps. This apart, he was just a treat to the eye - full of wristy flicks and on-drives which were soothing to the eye.

Everytime MS Dhoni’s name comes up for discussion with relation to this series, a series of questions will crop up: What if Dhoni had played the second Test match? What if Dhoni had declared the innings in Wellington Test a little earlier? What if Dhoni had not taken the lid off the Kiwis in the final session on day four?

But despite all these questions, MS Dhoni kept his reputation of being a good captain in the making. His batting (two fifties in three innings) and his wicketkeeping (11 catches and one stumping) leave little room for criticism, but his two decisions in the Wellington Test will always give room for debate. As a leader, he rightly identified Zaheer and Harbhajan as his preferred bowlers, and the duo repaid the faith in him. He seems to be relishing captaincy and enjoying the support of the players in the team.

Grade B

Ishant Sharma and Munaf Patel

Despite carrying a reputation of being the bowler to watch out for, Ishant Sharma had a disappointing series. He had little assistance from the conditions and struggled to cope with the wind. Full marks for trying though; he ran in hard, even bowled at speeds in excess of 140 kph at times. He picked up four wickets in the first innings of the first Test, but then struggled in the remainder of the series, only managing four more wickets in 75 overs.

India’s third seamer, Munaf Patel played the role of a stock bowler to near perfection. A bowler who can be very difficult to cope with if the conditions offer a little assistance, Munaf always bowled a stump-to-stump line and kept the pressure on the Kiwis. Like the rest of the bowling attack, looked unconvincing in the Napier Test. Continues to be a liability on the field though.

Grade C

Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh and Dinesh Karthik

Virender Sehwag had a hugely forgettable series. He got off to starts in four innings out of five in the series, but threw it away each time. His shot selection – which has earned him bucket loads of runs and held spectators spellbound in the past, came under the scanner after he threw it away playing some audacious strokes. Called to lead India at the last moment before the start of the second Test, he looked like a fish out of pond as far as his role as captain was concerned.

Yuvraj Singh came into this series with the chance to cement the number six position. But he let go a fantastic opportunity to fill the void left by Sourav Ganguly’s retirement. 125 runs in five innings – the lowest aggregate among Indian batsmen, questions will continue to be asked about his adaptability to Test cricket. He doesn’t have the best technique, is a definite suspect against the moving ball and a suspect starter against the spinners. Will consider himself unlucky that despite coming in to bat at number six, he encountered the new ball (second or third of the innings) almost everytime he walked out to bat.

MS Dhoni’s late withdrawal from the second Test gave Dinesh Karthik the best chance to cement the place of the reserve wicketkeeper. However, the Tamil Nadu lad, who was picked on the basis of his strong performances with the bat in the domestic circuit, wasn’t convincing with the bat and had two poor outings with the bat.