To say that India’s performance in New Zealand has been disappointing and even frustrating will be stating the obvious. Here was India’s best chance at reversing its trend of loosing overseas for the last three years and 14 Test matches against a lowly-ranked team. Very few would have envisaged such a strong New Zealand show against the second-ranked team in the world.
Contrary to all expectations, the end result has been a near white-wash in the one-dayers that cost India the Number one slot in the world and now an embarrassing Test series loss. The second Test draw has come as a shock, given the fact that they were at one stage in a position to win it even by an innings. Much as one wants to laud Brendon McCullum’s Bradman-like feat, the overwhelming feeling among the Indians would be of disillusionment with skipper MS Dhoni and his tactical acumen.
Dhoni has been lavishly praised and justifiably so, for his ice-cool temperament and letting his uncanny intuition lead his decisions on the field whenever in a crisis. The praise has come because it has worked for him in home conditions. Overseas, the same Dhoni becomes an indifferent, conservative and overtly defensive leader, who withdraws his troops even at a hint of aggression from the rivals. Examples are many, the latest being in the Wellington Test where he stopped attacking even when India were leading by a healthy margin when McCullum and Waitling got together in what turned out to be a world-record partnership effort.
What is a captain worth, if he retreats at crucial moments, letting the opponents gain in confidence and give them enough space to come out of a hole. It is strange to find Dhoni, who often flirts with danger when batting, play so safe when it comes to leading his men from the front in crunch moments.
There is no doubt that India’s pace battery looses fuse quickly and is unfit for long spells, which they are rarely needed for in India. And the spinners, who thrive on tailor-made home wickets become almost redundant outside.
It is this terrible weakness that Dhoni can blame for being unable to win the Wanderers Test in South Africa prior to this tour or the one here now. The impact of the limited overs cricket on Indian bowling in overseas conditions is too stark to be ignored. Yet, that does not absolve Dhoni from not taking the blame for an indifferent performance that does not augur well for India.
If New Zealand could inflict a defeat on us, what would be our fate in England and Australia, India's next two destinations? A scary thought, isn't it?