The 1st Test between India and New Zealand may go down in history as one of the greatest, especially for the Blackcaps as it was the first time they had beaten India in a Test in 12 years after a see-saw game from the 3rd Innings. The game will at the same time be a forgettable one for MS Dhoni, as it becomes his 11th loss as captain away from home – a record he surely does not want to be remembered for.
A remarkable 2nd Innings performance with the ball saw India back in the match, in which they only went down by 40 runs after trailing by 301 runs after the 1st innings.
The story was much the same as the rest of the tour to date. Dhoni won the toss, and elected to bowl first. Overhead conditions were made for swing bowling, on a pitch that would offer little assistance to bowlers after the ball had lost its shine, and would be there for the batsmen to set themselves up. A good start in the first session on Day 1 saw the Blackcaps at 30/3 before Williamson and McCullum joined together for a 221 run partnership, with Williamson making a century and McCullum a double, compiling a total of 503 in their first dig.
India did not start strongly and lost 10/3 in the first six overs, and never looked in the game, being bundled out for 202. Surprisingly, McCullum didn’t enforce the follow on, and what happened next bordered on the miraculous. India bundled out the Blackcaps for 105, in a fiery display of fast bowling and brilliance in the field, barring a simple drop chance by Murali Vijay. In the reply of chasing 406 with more than two days to bat, the Indian batsmen finally seemed to have learned from their mistakes and left the ball outside of off stump. The valiant chase, in which Dhawan contributed 115 and Kohli 67, came to an end with Ishant Sharma edging behind a Trent Boult bouncer to send the Blackcaps into a scene of jubilance. On another day, it may have ended with the Indian team running off the bench, but with the absence of the DRS, India have only themselves to blame for the wicket of Rahane.
While the series scoreboard reads 1-0 to NZ, its hard to not notice the strides Team India took on the field. The bowlers in the second innings learned from their mistakes of bowling far too short and wide, to tighten it up. The tighter lines bowled, built pressure and took wickets – something that has been lacking from India’s bowling department across all formats in the last eight or nine months, especially away from home. Ravi Jadeja’s athleticism in the field has raised the bar for Indian fielders, generally considered poor by world standards.
While Dhoni has the unwanted record of being the least successful Indian Test captain away from home, one must remember that for the duration of his captaincy he either had an aging side or a novice one. The aging side struggled, especially abroad towards the end of their careers with the likes of the legendary Dravid, Laxman, Sehwag and Tendulkar all falling victim to their slowing reflexes. In this new phase of his captaincy, in which he is building a novice team, many members of his squad have toured as a part of a Test squad for the first time outside of India in this tour and the one to South Africa recently. While rebuilding, losses are expected. One thing that shouldn’t be expected though is for this Indian team to continue its trend away from home.
If the 2nd innings bowling and batting performances from Auckland are anything to go by, this young team is hungry for victories, and is prepared to learn from their mistakes. The best chance they have to do so is to build on the momentum from Auckland and take it into Wellington.