Till a month ago cricket fans in India had no idea who Martin Guptill was; they had heard of the Delhi Daredevils left-arm spinner Daniel Vettori and had witnessed Brendon McCullum light up the IPL in the opening match of the tournament. For Indian fans, New Zealand is a world too far. So little is known about players from the deep south that it’s easy to underestimate what India have achieved in the last fortnight.
In conditions that have previously been too extreme for both teams — with the visitors obviously suffering more — India have never been able to overcome the Kiwis. John Wright, in his book on his experiences as a player, titled “Christmas in Rarotonga” writes how New Zealand’s cricket has been based on playing diligent and tough cricket without necessarily being attractive. Wright speaks of how success and winning meant everything to the small island nation that desperately craved respect.
Now, when India have won 3-0, it is tempting to put this down to the parity of talent in the two nations. In India, the likes of S. Badrinath and Ajinkya Rahane cannot break into the team despite the mountain of runs they have accumulated. In New Zealand, there are less than 100 active first-class cricketers in the whole country. If you look at it like that, this New Zealand team is a pretty sound unit.
The problem is that being sound and producing a phenomenon like Virender Sehwag are two different things entirely, as the home side is discovering.
First Sachin Tendulkar and then Virender Sehwag have said that this batting line-up is the best they have been a part of. The likes of Gautam Gambhir and Suresh Raina will enjoy being spoken of so highly but they should realise just how much depends on them.
That they are not feeling the pressure of these expectations is a credit to Gary Kirsten and Paddy Upton for the environment they have established. The coaching staff have ensured the competition is between this team and the opposition and not within. The players feel that they are in control of their own destinies.
The easiest thing for a coach to do is to arrive and impart his wisdom. The real difference, though, comes when the players are able to learn something. “It is like telling your wife this is how you want her to be. Will that ever work?” a member of the team asked, ending all discussions on what a coach’s approach ought to be. The team is acutely aware that if they want to become No. 1, and stay there for any length of time, they cannot simply ride on their batting might. The fielding and catching in the last match was a perfect reminder of how much work still needs to be done. The final game of this series will provide an ideal opportunity for the team to test the bench strength, the other aspect of the set up that will determine if India makes it to the top or not.