In a matter of a week, New Zealand is being seen in new light. You can rustle up all the expected reasons — lack of match practice, odd-shaped grounds, lack of big scores by openers and injury to Ishant Sharma — for India’s T20 losses, but no less credit is due to the vitality of the hosts who are being led by an extremely astute captain.
A wicketkeeper as captain of India and a spinner for New Zealand is an oddity in international cricket. But then new-age cricket has swayed our perceptions on an hourly basis. No surprise is big enough these days.
The Black Caps are landing meatier punches than the Indians would have expected. Their top-four batsman — essential in any format of the game — are in sound shape with ability, courage and imagination in good measure.
Most would be inclined to rate New Zealand bowlers better in familiar conditions, while on the field they are a cut above the Indians. Mahendra Singh Dhoni has a fight on his hands.
The virus of reverses does strange things to the soundest of minds. Indians would be tempted to get Ishant Sharma as quickly as possible on the ground. I would rather have the visitors fielding him in not more than two of the five one-dayers in order to revise the history of the last 41 years — of not winning a Test series in New Zealand.
The young boy is a precious commodity; he has had an abnormal workload lately and it isn’t going to be any easier for him with the IPL-II, Twenty20 World Cup and a host of other series on the itinerary sheet in the months ahead. Give him a break sensibly — don’t break him up!
One more thing, Indian batsman must hit their straps quickly. In foreign conditions, there is a bigger responsibility on Gambhir, Sehwag and Tendulkar to succeed. Dhoni, as a finisher, likes to have power-hitters like the Pathan brothers around him but once in a while there is no harm in showing one and all that you too can hit at will. A few more entries in the fours and sixes columns would alter a bowler’s perception of keeping a largely single-saving field for the Indian captain.
As I said, surprises are the most potent weapons in international cricket these days. Teams plan in detail but tend to panic when surprises hit them.
Napier is just the kind of surface for the Indians to bounce back to winning ways. It’s got one of the best batting tracks in the country and the warmer weather should be to India’s liking.