At the start of 1931 a massive earthquake hit Napier, New Zealand. The initial shock was 7.8 on the Richter scale. Straight after the earthquake came a series of fires, and with the water pipes destroyed by the earthquake, the fires spread quickly, destroying most of the town that had survived the initial quake. Hundreds were killed, but it would have been thousands if not for a navy ship that happened to be in port at the time. They were able to mobilise troops and put up some resistance to the growing disaster. However, it still ended up as New Zealand’s most deadly natural disaster ever.
On Wednesday, 23 January 2019, a different force of nature hit Napier. The initial shock was a stunning first three overs from Mohammed Shami – two of them maidens, and both openers bowled with balls that moved off the seam. This was followed by the fire of the spinners, slowing the ball up and letting it drop onto difficult zones. The panic spread quickly and the New Zealand’s middle order seemed to be in a race to get back to the changing room. The only real resistance came from Kane Williamson, but even the captain couldn’t steady the ship enough to avoid a complete collapse.
After that, the result was largely academic. New Zealand didn’t score enough, and batting on such an even pitch with no scoreboard pressure was never going to be too difficult for India’s batsmen.
Shami won Man of the Match, but the credit really should be shared with Virat Kohli, Ravi Shastri and whichever back room staff members helped come up with the bowling plans. These plans were executed brilliantly by the bowlers; and the New Zealand batsmen could not adapt quickly enough.
Both Shami and Bhuvneshwar Kumar had a clear strategy to the openers: bowl tight to off stump, and slightly back of the traditional good length. Martin Guptill looked all at sea to the tactic, and will certainly have to spend some time in the nets with the bowling machine targeting that spot. Colin Munro looked less troubled, but chose to play a horrible shot to a very good ball and paid the penalty. Trying to hit a ball on the up through the covers just after his partner had been bowled by a ball that jagged off the seam might not be his best ever piece of shot selection.
Yuzvendra Chahal then came on and took the pace off the ball completely, often bowling below 76 km/h. That can be a very dangerous move, but in the given situation it was the right one. Ross Taylor, Tom Latham and Henry Nicholls were all beaten by lack of pace. After Taylor was dismissed, who ended up giving a simple return catch to Chahal while advancing down the wicket, it would have probably been sensible for Latham and Nicholls to look to score off the back foot, rather than coming forward to everything, but instead they rushed out to their demise.
It was brainless batting from New Zealand, and it continued after the drinks break when Williamson tried a wild hoick over mid-wicket to a ball landing outside off stump. It felt very much like New Zealand went in with the idea that 325 was the required score on the ground, and never adjusted that score down. If they’d targeted 250, they may have reached it. Instead the majority of the middle order got out trying to force the pace with shots that were not ideal for that pitch.
The long Pukekohe grass on the pitch made the bounce a little spongier, rather than skidding on as was expected. This was another thing that New Zealand failed to adapt to.
Napier is a wonderful city to visit, and a lovely place to walk around, because after the earthquake, they made an excellent job of the rebuild, with a consistent art deco theme flowing through all the buildings. The seabed rose, and the harbour that had become a large swathe of barren land was used to build an airport. The leaders of Napier adapted their city to their new environment.
Black Caps never took the care to rebuild its innings. The players failed to adapt to the environment they found themselves in. As a result they were flattened.
Now they have a little more time to rebuild properly. One thing that was impressive in the UAE series against Pakistan was the way that New Zealand managed to address issues between matches. That will need to happen again for this series to be anything other than a national disaster. And right before the World Cup too.
Napier, San Francisco and Kobe were all rebuilt after being devastated by major earthquakes and are now thriving cites. Other cities like Port Royal and Ephesus never recovered from large earthquakes, and are now just ruins. The next three days for New Zealand will determine if this team will return to being thriving or become just a remnant of their recent glories.