One of the biggest challenges faced by modern day batsmen is switching their batting techniques between formats. There are very few, barring lack of form, that have succeeded across all three configurations of the game: Test, One Day Internationals (ODI) and Twenty20 (T20). Playing back to back international matches in all three can take its toll on the best of batters.
India started its tour of New Zealand towards the end of January this year with five T20s that they won, struggled to keep afloat in the three ODIs that followed.
They then capitulated in the first Test match at Basin Reserve, Wellington. In the third Test inning (ongoing second Test at the Hagley Oval, Christchurch) the visitors looked slightly better than in the earlier two innings but squandered the advantage to Kane Williamson’s Kiwis getting out for a below-par 242 runs.
The pitch looked as green as a Kiwi fruit with the zing of the famed gooseberry but had no demons for batsmen to be worried about. Yes, it was a green track but not the kind teams would be up to in England’s early summer. To succeed on such a surface the batsmen need to adjust to the spongy bounce that the Hagley Oval has on offer. The operative word on pitches such as these is patience, which was missing from the visitors arsenal. The switch from one format to the other seems to have affected the batsmen.
The Indians looked as though they were in a great hurry, trying to put pressure on the Kiwi attack with pointless stokes. If one analyses the first innings of the second Test, one will see three top order batsmen going past the 50 run mark, two of them - Prithvi Shaw and Hanuma Vihari had (ODI type) strike rates of 84.37 and 78.57 respectively. Shaw’s 54 runs had 8 boundaries and a six while Vihari ended up with 10 hits to the fence.
Both ended their sojourn at the crease playing shots that were not meant to be played. The other 50-plus Indian, the dependable Cheteshwar Pujara too offered his wicket on a platter. It just may be that the comments made by Indian skipper Virat Kohli, after the dismal loss by 10 wickets in the first Test, exhorting his team mates against being cautious or wary and keep playing shots would have been at the back of the minds of Vihari and Pujara.
After the Indian bowlers had got their team back into the game with a slender lead of 7 runs, the batsmen once again disappointed. At the end of the second day’s play, India are ahead by 97 runs and have four wickets in the kitty. Cricket’s a great game and it’s never over till the fat lady sings.
While on Kohli and his needless comments after the first Test to ‘block all the noise from the outside’ was akin to the fictional character from La Mancha, Don Quixote, who kept chasing and tilting his lance at windmills, imagining they were evil characters. If there indeed was any noise, it was from the general fans of Indian cricket. The same ones who have put the skipper on a pedestal. They are the only reason for the dynamic batsman to be a highly rated athlete in commercial terms.
When a captain calls a three-zero loss to the Kiwi’s in the ODIs as ‘irrelevant’ and goes on to say that India will not be bothered if they lose the second Test match at Christchurch it goes against the basic grain of the narrative of giving your best for your country. A loss is a loss, no matter how irrelevant and against who, it hurts the Indian fan.
One guesses that Kohli was probably trying to convey that no matter what the outcome is, team India will continue to maintain the aggressive and in-your-face psyche each time they take the field against all-comers. Victories and defeats are part of the game and everyone who follows cricket knows that, and India may well end up squaring the series. It’s good to see that Kohli’s shoulders are up and about and not sagging after losing four consecutive matches — three ODIs and one Test.