India’s One-day series debacle in New Zealand badly exposed the pace bowlers as a group. A lack of discipline and the inability to think on their feet on pitches with good carry and bounce raised serious concerns about the team going forward.
Barely 48 hours after conceding the series 0-4, the visitors were back to testing their pace department in the two-day game against a New Zealand XI which started on Sunday. India are in the same situation as in their previous tour of South Africa, where they had to immediately regroup after badly losing the ODI series.
While their only side game in South Africa was washed out and forced them to go into the Tests without much practice, the game at the Cobham Oval began in bright sunshine.
The hosts declared at 262 for nine and openers Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan had taken the score to 41 for none at stumps.
The day was about the contrasting performances of the pace pack. Mohammad Shami and Bhuvneshwar Kumar were rested, skipper MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli did not make the two-hour road trip, preferring to stay in Auckland while Ravindra Jadeja stay put in the hotel.
Zaheer, whose last match was Mumbai’s Ranji Trophy quarterfinal defeat against Maharashtra, worked a nice rhythm straightaway, although there was no success in his first spell.
He reeled off four maidens in the six-over spell. He would return before lunch to induce a nick from Anton Devcich -- the only player who had played in the senior team – with late movement.
He bowled within himself, even fielded within himself to allow the odd boundary. But a fit and firing Zaheer’s leadership will be so vital for the demoralised pace unit.
Umesh Yadav worked a good pace but struggled with his line and length to go for runs.
Ishant Sharma, dropped for the last two ODIs, once again waxed and waned. He bowled too short early on after coming in first change.
New Zealand U-19 skipper, Robbie O’Donnell, called up to lead the second string line-up after Test openers Hamish Rutherford and Peter Fulton pulled out to play a domestic first-class game, pulled him for fours impressively.
However, Ishant came back and had O’Donnell, top-scorer with 80, caught brilliantly by Ajinkya Rahane in the gully trying to cut.
The home batsmen didn’t have too many problems on the batting pitch and the bowlers had to work hard for success. Ishwar Pandey finally got a game on tour and he made an impression, proving to be the most consistent among the lot to finish with three wickets.
The Indian team management trying to work out the pace combination would have been none the wiser after Ishant mixed good, pacy deliveries with short stuff.
In addition, he struggled with his run-up, bowling 10 no-balls and was asked to go out after play ended and was asked to bowl, and work on his run-up, on a side pitch.
It was Ashwin who broke the 81-run opening stand between O’Donnell and George Worker (33).
The spinner, who has struggled for wickets and was dropped for the previous Test in Durban, was impressive when he flighted the ball, but went back to pushing it through the moment he was attacked, though none of the batsmen looked very comfortable against spin.
New Zealand XI: 262/9 in 78 overs (Robbie O’Donnell 80, Jono Hickey 45; Ishwar Pandey 3-42, R Ashwin 2-45, Ishant Sharma 2-58). India: 41/0 in 14 overs (Murali Vijay 19 batting, Shikhar Dhawan 16 batting; Tipene Friday 0-15, Ian McPeake 0-10).