Ruthlessness is the hallmark of great teams, as West Indies and Australia showed during their eras. The key is aggression, making sure the opposition never gets a chance to come back once you take control of the match.
On this tour, where the gap between the teams has not been huge, the line still repeated by New Zealand players and officials has been about not taking the foot off the throat. When India look back on a disastrous tour, they will have themselves to blame for throwing away the advantage repeatedly when things were going their way.
Despite losing the ODIs 0-4, India held the upper hand in both Tests, only to concede ground by dropping catches. In both Auckland, where they eventually lost by 40 runs, and in Wellington, it was lack of concentration by fielders that has hurt them.
There must be a sense of déjà vu. New Zealand skipper Brendon McCullum was let off twice, by Virat Kohli and Ishant Sharma off his own bowling. The second reprieve came when he was on 36 and the Kiwis were staring at an innings defeat on the third afternoon. In the first Test, Murali Vijay at first slip dropped in-form Kane Williamson. He scored a century and his huge stand with McCullum left India chasing the game.
In 1990, wicketkeeper Kiran More dropped England opener Graham Gooch on 33 in the first Test at Lord’s. He finished on 333. McCullum is poised to become the first Kiwi batsman to score a triple century, his marathon knock having already lasted over 12 hours.
Dropped catches have particularly blunted the pace bowlers despite more favourable overseas conditions. Used to relying more on control, swing and seam on Indian pitches that don’t reward hitting the deck hard, they can ill-afford to miss chances. In Auckland, their tactic of banging the ball short only helped New Zealand amass a big first-innings total. Here, once the ball lost shine, they had to toil, as they could not extract much from the flat pitch.
In this Test, the punishment for those dropped catches was a 123-over wait. Poor effort on the field is inexcusable but Zaheer, Ishant and Shami will also have to look at their inability to create chances when conditions don’t favour them or the ball gets old.
It is the second time in four matches that they have come unstuck, despite producing some brilliant individual spells. In the Johannesburg Test, Faf du Plessis and AB de Villiers got stuck for 62.3 overs on the final day. That reduced India from chasing a near certain win to scrambling to a draw.
Former Kiwi pacer Ewen Chatfield had said on Sunday that Indian pacers should get their tactics right. “When you are on flat tracks, you must make them play all the time. Otherwise, you are running out of gas before the batter does.” That was not the case on Monday.