Five-Fer: India v New Zealand


India won the Test series against New Zealand 2-0, but it wasn't all sunshine and roses for the home side, while it wasn't all bad for the Black Caps.

India won the Test series against New Zealand 2-0, but it wasn't all sunshine and roses for the home side, while it wasn't all bad for the Black Caps.

<b>1) Virat Kohli's Form</b>

Rahul Dravid, he of 164 Tests for India, feels Virat Kohli is the country's best batsman at the moment, and it would be tough to argue against that after this series. The 22-year-old has overcome a mental fragility in terms of temper and aggression to become a near dead cert for a fifty in every innings he plays.

In this series he batted three times, the first Test not requiring a second knock from the Indians, and each time he scored more than fifty. His runs were not only impressive because of the numbers, but for circumstances in which they were scored.

His century in the first innings in Bangalore ensured India got close to the Black Caps' target of 365 when the other top order batsmen failed to get going, while his 51 not out in the final chase ensured victory after India struggled on 166 for five.

Kohli has become everyone's favourite batsman, <i>Cricket365</i> included, because out of the nine innings he's played since mid-July (post-IPL, in all formats), six have gone over fifty and three have been tons. He's an all-format player, which is valuable in the way Kevin Pietersen was/is for England.

<b>2) Slightly Less Masterful</b>

One hesitates to say this, as it's practically blasphemy, but *whispers* Sachin Tendulkar was disappointing in this series. The Little Master was greeted with roars of approval every time he touched the ball or set foot over the ropes, no matter how inconsequential the action, but he could not get a score above 27.

Tendulkar was clean bowled all three innings in this series, his reactions at the age of 37 not quite quick enough to combat the Kiwi fast bowling of Trent Boult, Doug Bracewell and Tim Southee, none of whom are exactly Dale Steyn. When Southee's delivery snuck between Tendulkar's bat and pad in the second innings of the second Test, the raucous crowd in Bangalore went dead silent, it was eery.

It's easy to understand why Sachin would resist retirement, he's the last of that legendary batting line-up what with Dravid and VVS Laxman retiring, but he might consider it while his average is still above 55, having last scored a Test century in January last year.

Sachin wasn't the only under-performing batsman though. Openers Virender Sehwg and Gautam Gambhir did not cover themselves in glory, with not a fifty to be found between them in the series, meaning the three senior batsmen left the heavy lifting to the youngsters.

India's big total in the first Test was mostly down to Cheteshwar Pujara's wonderfully composed 159 and fifties by Dhoni and Kohli, and the second Test again saw the middle and lower order save the day as the veterans got set by failed to kick on.

<b>3) Spin Twins</b>

This brings us to the spin sensations that are Pragyan Ojha and R Ashwin… It can be argued that these two made India look better than they were, combined with the Black Caps abject batting against them.

The numbers are pretty impressive when it comes to these two. In the first Test they took 18 of the 20 wickets that fell, with Ashwin removing 12 of those scalps, six in each innings, as New Zealand were all out for 159 and 164, losing by an innings and 115 runs.

The second Test was less of a massacre, as the Kiwis coped slightly better against the spin twins, but Ojha took a five-for in the first innings and Ashwin did the same in the second to doom the Black Caps to yet another defeat.

Ashwin has taken 48 wickets in his eight Tests, while Ojha has 75 wickets in 16 Tests. It has to be said that Ojha's five-fers have all come against weaker sides (Kiwis and West Indies), while Ashwin has only played against those two sides and Australia, against whom he was less effective.

So we'll wait and see how they do against countries that can play spin, and on grounds that are not made to accommodate them. In fact, Ojha has yet to play a Test outside the sub-continent.

<b>4) Not A Clue</b>

Speaking of the New Zealand top order… The dead horse is being flogged slightly by bringing this up, but the Black Caps do have quite a large problem when it comes to their top order, especially against spin, as mentioned above.

As was the case in the series against the West Indies directly before this tour, Ross Taylor was the only batsman to score a single century, and even then it was not enough to secure a win for his side.

The first Test was one of the poorest displays of batting against tweakers one could (not) wish to see, so much so that their former coach Mark Greatbatch questioned their desire and ability to take advice on the matter. Only Kane Williamson showed any fortitude in that game, scoring a lone fifty.

The second Test was much better, and the five-wicket win for the home side was a larger margin than they deserved. But if it weren't for Taylor's excellent hundred, and Kruger van Wyk's belligerent 71 in the first innings, they would have failed to post a total above 200.

They need to find a solution and fast, because the wickets of Sri Lanka will not be easier to bat on during the World Twenty20, and with Pakistan in their group, they will be confronted with the world's best spinners in Saeed Ajmal and Mohammad Hafeez.

<b>5) Due Southee</b>

Left out of the first Test and replaced by veteran Chris Martin, Tim Southee cut a dejected figure on the sidelines as his side lost comprehensively. Martin's single wicket for 76 runs was deemed insufficient for a place in Bangalore, and Southee was recalled.

It's not often a bowler takes eight wickets in a losing cause, but Southee's seven-for haul in the first innings of the second Test was a credit to him, because it was not a wicket that helped the faster bowlers.

It was his best bowling innings by a substantial margin, as the last time he took more than two wickets in an innings was in December 2010, and he's been slightly overshadowed by Trent Boult in recent matches.

The Kiwis have a decent bowling attack building, with Southee, Boult and Bracewell developing nicely, while Neil Wagner could become a genuine threat if given half a chance, Jeetan Patel is also a decent spinner, taking a number of wickets in each Test, though he's not Dan Vettori in terms of discipline.

<b>Lindsay du Plessis</b>