Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Can India Rebound Against New Zealand?

By Carl Jaison:

For the second test starting Friday, India’s chances against the Kiwis will depend upon how a handful of younger players will fare. So far, they have come across as too nervous, like lambs to be slaughtered.

Undue anticipation seldom rewards. The month-long tour to New Zealand was billed as a possible resurrection phase for Indian cricket following the heavy drubbing received at the hands of South Africa recently. However, there were only few positive signs going into this crucial series, one of which was the Virat Kohli phenomena.

The former U-19 skipper displayed exemplary temperament and astute game-sense during the challenging tour against South Africa, which unfortunately couldn’t even translate into a single victory. Also, the form of India’s newfound Dravid-in-the-making, Chetheswar Pujara, augured well for a team that lacked confidence ahead of a tough cricketing season.

Apart from these two promising youngsters, Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni was the only other one who made his mark despite some questionable tactical decisions. The rest of the team struggled to come to terms with the foreign conditions and were left to look like mere lambs that would soon face the axe.

But the selectors believed in sharpening their axes further more before the impending reality of mass-axing occurs (to provide an extended run to the young brigade) considering that the upcoming series would be against a lesser-fancied team like New Zealand. While the axes were put to rest for the time being, the lambs once again succumbed to an embarrassing ODI series loss that once again underlined their incapability of acclimatizing to the playing conditions in quick time.

The anticipation quickly transformed into desperation for winning at least a consolatory test series. The resurrection phase was already underway although with painful consequences. Taking into account the current state of affairs, even the possibility of a test-series loss looms large and eventually Indian cricket may indeed plunge into newer lows.

Shikhar Dhawan was out of touch for most part of the ODI series but regained his confidence by smashing a quick-fire century in the first test. Dhawan’s form will be important for a meaningful opening stand that has quite not happened in overseas test matches.

Murali Vijay appeared solid in technique while dealing with the pace bowlers and his role would be to play an able foil to Dhawan. However, Vijay is known for his aggressive game-play after he has settled down at the crease but has often fallen prey to rash strokes.

For some strange reason, Rohit Sharma has cut down on his stroke-play due to which he has consumed a lot of deliveries before getting off the mark. This in turn has put added pressure on the following batsmen who’ve been unable chase down huge totals. Rohit’s gritty knock in the first test will put him in good stead but his inability to play the long innings may expose the brittleness of the middle-order.

His short stature notwithstanding, the Ranji Trophy run-machine Rahane played beyond expectations to cement his spot in the squad but like some of his colleagues has squandered fruitful opportunities to score big.

The pace attack has been rejuvenated with the return of Zaheer Khan, who has made steady progress since his comeback test.

The biggest worry has been the sudden patchiness of Mohammad Shami who has leaked many runs with little returns. Ishant Sharma relishes bowling in such conditions with his towering height and hit-the-deck nature which has already earned him a five-wicket haul in the first innings though his early spell was as expensive as Shami.

Jadeja has transformed from a slow starter to a swashbuckling lower-order batsman always looking to score quick runs. It was evident even before the start of the series that the spinners would find it tough to adapt to unfavorable conditions but Jadeja hasn’t even been able to stem the flow of runs.

India should look to regain their lost momentum after having lost the first test. The bowlers did well to bundle them out for a low total but the batsmen need to show greater application if they are to stand a chance against a greatly improved Kiwi outfit.

Dhoni should retain the same team for the second test considering the spirited fight back while chasing down a 300+ target. The forms of Virat Kohli and Cheteshwara Pujara will be crucial for India to shed the image that continues to haunt them.

But will the lambs be up for it?

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