On Friday, Team India will come face to face with the side that last year ended their hopes of lifting the ICC World Cup for a third time.
Barring a defeat to hosts England and a couple of shaky wins, the 'Men in Blue' lived up to their favourites' billing as they finished on top of the Pool and certainly appeared the stronger side ahead of the semi-final against New Zealand. However, India suffered yet another top-order collapse in an all-important ICC-event knockout match to bow out of the event with an 18-run defeat.
Half a year later, following a string of victories in the Caribbean and on home soil, the Virat Kohli-led team once again appear confident as well as on top of their game. While occasionally challenged in the limited-overs formats by each of the touring sides — South Africa, Bangladesh, West Indies and Australia — they retained their aura of invincibility in their 3-0 and 2-0 sweeps of the Proteas and the Tigers respectively.
Their last home assignment before the New Zealand tour saw them suffer a 10-wicket hiding at the hands of Aaron Finch's Australia in Mumbai, before the Men in Blue bounced back with convincing victories in Rajkot and Bengaluru to take the series 2-1.
New Zealand, on the other hand, have experienced mixed fortunes since the World Cup. While they beat England 1-0 in a two-Test series that wasn't included in the ICC Test Championship, they lost the five-match T20I series 3-2 against the same team and later suffered a 0-3 sweep at the hands of the Aussies in the Trans-Tasman Trophy.
The recent defeats, however, don't make the Black Caps pushovers. Despite being buoyed by their recent successes, the Indians cannot afford to let their guard down and go about experimenting with their side, lest they suffer a fate similar to the 2017 Champions Trophy final or the 2019 World Cup semi-final.
Before the tour gets underway in the first T20I this Friday, we take a look at some of the standout Indian moments from their previous tours of New Zealand: from the landmark series win in 1967-68 to some brilliant individual performances from the likes of Gautam Gambhir and Sachin Tendulkar.
Here are five such moments in chronological order:
The first-ever overseas series win, 1967-68
In an era in which Indian victories came at a premium, the Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi-led side made history in New Zealand in the 1967-68 season by registering their first-ever overseas Test series victory, 15 years since their first series win and 35 years since they made their debut as a cricketing nation.
The spin trio of Erapalli Prasanna, Bishan Singh Bedi and Bapu Nadkarni were at the forefront of this historic victory as they shared a total of 54 wickets between them with Prasanna accounting for 24 of those scalps.
New Zealand levelled the series at Christchurch with a six-wicket win in the second Test after India went 1-0 up at Dunedin. The visitors then notched up convincing victories at Wellington (8 wickets) and Auckland (272 runs) to complete a convincing 3-1 series victory.
The Master Blaster opens for the first time, 1993-94
The move to promote Sachin Tendulkar to the opener’s slot in one-dayers five years after his international debut will go down as one of the most important moments in Indian cricket.
Mohammad Azharuddin, then-captain of the Indian team, had been thinking of pushing him up the order for some time, and it was only when Navjot Singh Sidhu woke up with a stiff neck ahead of the second one-dayer in Auckland that Tendulkar finally walked out to open the innings alongside Ajay Jadeja.
The target wasn’t a tall one; the Kiwis had been bowled out for a meagre 142, giving the Indians the chance to level the series. In an era in which opening batsmen still weren’t quite as attacking as is the case among contemporary openers, Tendulkar walked in and smashed 82 off just 49 balls at a strike rate of 167.34 to turn the run chase into a cake walk.
Tendulkar would collect his first one-day hundred later that year, and 45 of his 49 ODI hundreds and 15,310 of his 18,426 runs would be scored as an opener — forming immensely successful partnerships at the top of the order with Sourav Ganguly and Virender Sehwag for the Men in Blue. A historic decision by Azhar and the team management indeed.
Sachin finally scores an ODI hundred in NZ, 2008-09
Tendulkar was possibly on the last stretch of his glittering career in the 2008-09 tour of New Zealand, and an ODI ton in that country was among the few accomplishments left for him to achieve — a couple of others being a double-hundred in the 50-over format and being part of a World Cup-winning side.
Tendulkar ticked that box in what would be his final tour of New Zealand, and did so in style. India emerged victors in the run-fest at the AMI Stadium in Christchurch on 8 March, in which 726 runs were scored, by 58 runs to grab a 2-0 lead in the third one-dayer.
The lion’s share of the credit would go to the Master Blaster, who looked set to breach the 200-barrier that day before a muscle pull forced him to head back to the dressing room 37 runs short of the milestone with five overs left in the innings, smashing 16 fours and five sixes along the way to decimate the Kiwi attack.
Gautam Gambhir saves the day, 2008-09
The match-saving 137 at Napier is one of the two standout moments in Gautam Gambhir’s career, the other being his match-winning 97 in the 2011 World Cup final. The southpaw opener consumed 436 deliveries and spent nearly 11 hours at the crease for his 137 in the second innings to stand between India and a certain innings defeat.
A loss looked all the more possible after India conceded a 314-run first innings lead and lost the wicket of stand-in captain Virender Sehwag in their second innings with just 30 runs on board.
Gambhir however, found support from the rest of the batting order, especially VVS Laxman who carried on with the task even after Gambhir was dismissed as he remained unbeaten on 124.
With the third and final Test at Wellington also ending in a draw, India registered their first series win in New Zealand since the landmark victory in 1967-68, and the result might have been very different had Gambhir not produced one of the finest knocks of that decade.
Ravindra Jadeja secures a tie, 2013-14
‘Sir’ Jadeja’s handiness with the bat down the order is one of the reasons the Saurashtra all-rounder is such an asset to Team India across formats. One of his best exhibitions with the bat occurred in the only game India didn’t lose in the ODI leg of what was a forgettable tour of New Zealand in 2013-14.
India had already lost the first two matches of the series, and the Black Caps were setting their sights on clinching the series after setting them a challenging 315 to win, which looked all the more likely after the departure of MS Dhoni with the scorecard reading 184/6. Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin (66) then began counter-attacking as they stitched an 85-run stand for the seventh wicket to keep the game alive.
The Men in Blue suffered another collapse after Ashwin’s dismissal, and were left needing 18 from the last over with one wicket in hand. Jadeja smashed Corey Anderson for two fours and a six to level the scores but could collect just a single off the final delivery to tie the game, making it one of the most memorable limited-overs fixtures between the two sides.
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