Kiwis plan well but do not innovate
The match has been extremely interesting so far, especially the third day, which saw an absorbing battle between bat and ball. New Zealand fought back pretty well. Starting the day at 41 for three, the morning session was crucial and they played it extremely well, staying positive throughout and yet being circumspect.
They really do a lot of thinking about the game, the conditions and the opposition. This was reflected in the way they batted on this wicket, especially against the spinners. It’s evident that they have practiced a lot and are now very deliberately playing late. Whenever possible, staying on the back foot, using the sweep shot and never jabbing at the ball when on the front foot.
This is a team that believes, almost obsessively, in planning and goes into a match with a pre-decided script. This was evident when they started with the revolutionary field setting for Sehwag with only one slip and three deep gullies for the uppish cut shot. While it almost worked, I can’t help feeling that they got a bit carried away and bowled too short and wide with the new ball, on a wicket that had some grass and moisture.
Sehwag may have inadvertently helped the cause of the team because I don’t remember many balls being bowled, which drew the batsman forward. This strategy was predictable and wasted the new ball on a fresh wicket. More pertinently, it gave the Indians an opportunity to get settled coming into international cricket after a long time.
Strategy is an integral part of the modern game but I believe that there should be a balance between strategy and conditions (and conventional wisdom and natural flair). If you get carried away you run the risk of compromising all the rest. Zaheer demonstrated what can be achieved by bowling a good line.
As expected, New Zealand are on the defensive. They do not have the bowling for these conditions and cannot get the Indians out once, let alone win a match. They fell into the trap of playing two spinners, neither of whom can make an impact on this very strong batting line up. The batting, in these conditions is hinging on Fleming and Astle. Although the wicket has not offered any assistance to the bowlers the Kiwis will have to fight hard to save both the matches.
The Indians have played this match rather well so far but if one had to fault them at all, it would be the lack of the requisite intensity on the third day.Both the debutants on there part have convinced everybody that they have the talent and temperament to be persisted with and given an extended run to establish themselves.
The match is now very well poised. Although India are in a position of control, they would want to enforce a follow-on, failing which they will have to play extremely aggressive cricket to win this match.