India vs New Zealand: Virat Kohli, Jasprit Bumrah revival crucial
Apart from denting pride (and Kohli is fiercely ambitious), the rout could put a strain on the team for the two-Test series which starts in just over 10 days.Updated: Feb 13, 2020 08:54 IST
The week gone by was unusually poor for Indian cricket: Virat Kohli’s team got whitewashed by New Zealand in ODIs, the under-19 team lost to Bangladesh in the World Cup final and the women’s team was beaten by Australia in the Tri-series final on Wednesday. Of these, India being drubbed 0-3 by New Zealand in the ODIs was the most unexpected. True, limited-overs cricket can throw up topsy-turvy results, but after losing the T20 series 0-5 nobody thought such a dramatic turnaround was possible by the home team.
Credit to New Zealand then for regrouping so swiftly and effectively. In spite of missing key players Kane Williamson (two games), Trent Boult and Lockie Ferguson (all three), they showed fine skills and deep resolve to turn the tables on India.
In hindsight, four consecutive defeats in ODIs—including the World Cup semi-final last year—suggests New Zealand have India’s measure in this format currently, never mind the ICC rankings that place them a spot below.
How did the Indian team see this setback? After the second match (and series) was lost, skipper Kohli said ODIs are not a priority this year as the focus is on the T20 World Cup and on the race to find a place in the World Test Championship final.
I reckon all teams/captains hold pretty much the same view. But whether Kohli was as sanguine after the third match is moot. In his post-match address, he looked unhappy and was rather caustic about the team’s performance, particularly the fielding.
He has good reason to be miffed. Apart from denting pride (and Kohli is fiercely ambitious), the rout could put a strain on the team for the two-Test series which starts in just over 10 days. The momentum, which was with India, has tilted somewhat in New Zealand’s favour.
Cricket’s three formats are vastly different in tenor and texture and it is risky to compare form in one with another. However, morale and confidence matter a great deal in sport. If self-doubt, individual or collective, sets in, it may not be easy for the captain to address in a short series like the one to be played.
That said modern cricketers—especially those who play multiple formats—have to adapt, and adjust rapidly to different situations. The Indian team has managed this quite brilliantly in recent years and Kohli will be hoping the desire to succeed in Test cricket is sustained.
He’ll be aware of some problems that loom on the horizon though. The absence of Rohit Sharma hurts the strength of the batting, especially with the other openers Mayank Agarwal and Prithvi Shaw not in earth-shattering form.
Kohli and Jasprit Bumrah, the team’s best batsman and bowler, had a poor ODI series. I would think that was an aberration, but they have to hit their best rightaway for the team to be working at optimum strength.
Perhaps the timing of the Test team’s selection is to be blamed, but in this somewhat vulnerable situation, KL Rahul not finding a place in the squad is a travesty, to put it kindly. He is in brilliant touch and would have been a splendid option anywhere in the batting order.
In that sense, it may be a relief to Kohli that senior pros Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Ishant Sharma (if declared fit) and Umesh Yadav are involved only in Test cricket. They join the team fresh, unburdened by the ODI fiasco and in good form.
Each match in this series is worth 60 points to the winner, compared to 24 for the Tests against Australia at the yearend. Even one victory will keep India comfortably ahead of other teams in the race to be in the final of the World Test Championship.
A barren series could spell trouble. Kohli has defined his priorities on this tour. Now, he must ensure the team fufills it.
(The writer is a senior sports analyst and views are personal)