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India tour of New Zealand 2014: Selectors may have to take tough calls after India’s poor show

Brendon McCullum smashed first triply ton by a New Zealand batsman, against India at Wellington © Getty Images
Brendon McCullum smashed first triple ton by a New Zealand batsman, against India at Wellington © Getty Images

By Ajit Agarkar

When you do a post-mortem, you tend to look at all aspects of the game: if your bowling was good enough to take 20 wickets, if your batting was consistent enough or were the right strategies adopted? I am sure these are some of the things the selectors will be looking at.

On Tuesday, Virat Kohli simply raised his bat and helmet after getting to three figures. There was no high-energy celebration this time. For starters, it was a typical Kohli knock — oozing with intent and laced with boundaries. Secondly, it helped India draw a Test match they were expected to win when play began on Day Three and Day Four. And finally, like many a Kohli special, it was a back-to-the-wall effort.

Walking in at 10/2, Kohli was lucky umpire Steve Davis didn’t rule him out early in the innings but, as a batsman, you have to make use of the good fortune that comes your way. The right-hander put that ‘caught behind’ episode behind him and took fresh guard. He added 44 runs with Cheteshwar Pujara (who fell for 17) and an undefeated 112 with Rohit Sharma (31 not out) as India finished with 166/3 in 52 overs. That’s when the teams decided to call it a day. New Zealand had, of course, set India an improbable 435-run target.

The day, Test match and series, which the hosts took 1-0, belonged to Brendon McCullum who became the first New Zealander to get to the revered mark of 300 in Test cricket. Mind you, the Kiwis have been playing the longest format of the game for 84 years. I vividly remember Martin Crowe getting out for 299 in the early 1990s. I am glad someone I have played with — and a great guy, I must add — broke that jinx and got to the magical number. In the process, McCullum also became just the third man after Sir Donald Bradman and Wally Hammond in the 1930s to score double and triple tons in consecutive Tests. That is some club.

McCullum deserves a lot of praise for the way he batted and, more importantly, led a young and largely ‘superstar-less’ — yet improving — side against India. India had their chances in the ODI series as well as the first Test, but McCullum outsmarted MS Dhoni every now and then. The only time he came second best was at the toss. Interestingly, he lost them all!

McCullum staged a recovery act like no other in the second Test. India were odds-on favourites to win in Wellington and, thereby, draw the series. Instead, McCullum played a one-for-the-ages knock to rescue his side from 94/5 in the second innings. Not only did the Kiwis erase the 246-run deficit, they ended up setting India a mammoth target. McCullum was at the centre of it all.

So India have now gone two tours without a single victory. Our record in overseas Tests has taken a further beating. The record books tell me that it’s been 32 months since Dhoni & Co. won a five-day contest on foreign soil. Since June 2011, when India won a three-Test series in the West Indies by a 1-0 margin, we have gone 12 overseas Tests without a win. We lost 4-0 in England, 4-0 in Australia, 1-0 in South Africa and now 1-0 in New Zealand. Mind you, Dhoni has played the last couple of tours with a really inexperienced team. Even so as players you want your overseas record to get better and inexperience or not, I’m sure the players will be very disappointed with the results. More so because there were in a position of strength in some of those games.

When you do a post-mortem, you tend to look at all aspects of the game: if your bowling was good enough to take 20 wickets, if your batting was consistent enough or were the right strategies adopted? I am sure these are some of the things the selectors will be looking at. They may have to take some tough calls and even though it is true that this is a rebuilding phase, you still want to show improvement with each day, especially when you play away from home.

Fortunately, India’s next Test assignment is in July (in England). In other words, the selectors have some time on their hands. And hopefully, the decisions they make will help Indian cricket go forward.

(Ajit Agarkar represented India in over 200 matches and took 349 wickets. The above column first appeared in DNA from where its reproduced with permission)

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