When the going gets tough, the tough get going. That is exactly how the Indian team’s match saving performance on the last two days of the Napier Test can be aptly summed up as. Staring defeat in its face at the end of Day 3 after being made to follow on, India’s famed batting line-up came to the rescue and grinded the Kiwi bowlers for two full days, denying them a hard fought victory.
The point here, though, is not that the comeback was phenomenal, but why in the first place did the Indians let their opponents off the hook after having shattered their confidence in the ODI series and at the first Test played in Hamilton.
Some may argue that the pitch did not offer much to the bowlers who destroyed the opposition in the opening Test, but that same pitch saw the Indian batting line-up surrender meekly in front of a mediocre Kiwi attack. Going in to bat after the home team had posted a mammoth 619 in their first essay, the Indians’ primary task at hand was to try and avoid a follow on. It is one thing to play aggressively, but some of the mindless shots to which the batters perished could well have been avoided.
Cricket can look like a tough nut when you do not perform well and especially if you are representing one billion passionate people who will treat you like demigods after a good performance, only to tear that respect to shreds after an ordinary outing. The captain’s each and every move is put to scrutiny and endless questions raised about the logic behind those moves.
Critics have already started questioning makeshift skipper Sehwag’s lifeless captaincy in the match as also the Indians’ decision to arrive in Napier on the eve of the second Test, which eventually gave them very little or no time at all to practice and get familiar with the conditions. It is sometimes good to get the pressure off your mind before a big game but to completely ignore the importance of practice is something that cost the Indians a great deal. The BCCI will have to look into the matter seriously, not just because the team failed to rise up to the expectations in one game but just to instill a greater sense of discipline in this young and enthusiastic unit of talented individuals.
Another thing that flabbergasted most experts was the decision to send in a night watchman in Ishant Sharma when they knew that another wicket at that stage would put the Kiwis firmly in the driver’s seat. Even the thought that you could expect a number eleven to display better technique than the little master seems absurd. I think the concept of a night watchman has become outdated, like most other old concepts in cricket, and teams should rethink if it should be practiced at all.
New Zealand will now go into the final Test with their spirits high and with a renewed confidence in their ability to stand up and be counted against the mighty Indians. India on the other hand will try to finish the job and win their first Test series in Kiwi-land, an achievement which has evaded them for over 40 years.
The situation becomes even more desperate, considering that this could be the visitors’ best chance of winning a series in New Zealand than probably later, when most of the stalwarts like Tendulkar, Dravid, Laxman and Zaheer would have bid adieu.