For some players pressure is a fearsome foe; its petrifying presence turns them molten. For others it is a catalyst that forges them into an alloy of the finest kind.
At different times players react differently to pressure. Some are perpetually debilitated by it while there are some who joyfully ride on it to triumph at times but at other times are diminished and overwhelmed by it.
New Zealanders who embraced it so magnificently in Mumbai, found one of the heroes of that win, Tom Latham suffer a brain freeze at the most inopportune time in the series decider at Kanpur. And that momentary lapse cost the visitors the match.
Latham, the non-striker, inexplicably charged for a non-existent bye when the ball went straight to wicket-keeper Mahendra Singh Dhoni. The resultant run out, with his team on the threshold of a great, historic win, condemned the Kiwis to a heart-stopping six-run defeat. New Zealand and Latham were left to rue what might have been.
Yet, after the excitement of the nail-biting finish dies down there would be an acceptance that this New Zealand team had run India closer than any other team in the recent past.
They ran India so close that but for the fact that the home team found its timely champions in batting, bowling and fielding, this series might have well been a ‘Black Caps’ triumph to savour.
The Kiwis had three outstanding fast bowlers in Tim Southee, Trent Boult and Adam Milne, a wonderfully restrictive left arm spinner in Mitchell Santner and an excellent batting line-up that had its share of left handers, power hitters and grafters.
The visitors, shored up by a number of players who were part of the New Zealand ‘A’ squad that toured India just before the start of this series, ambushed India in the first ODI in Mumbai. That win, where it looked like they had all bases covered, made the Indian team sit up and search for counter measures.
The comfortable win at Pune followed by the close one at Kapur enabled India to retain their supremacy on home soil. But it also raised a few questions.
Is it prudent to schedule a day-night ODI in north India when dew fall in the evening works unquestionably to the advantage of the team batting second?
The dew is a major factor as it quickens up the pitch and glosses over the rough patches. This, along with the wet ball, neutralises the effect of the spinner. Medium paced bowlers too struggle for the same reasons. They come on to the bat easily and can be carved up with minimum fuss. Bhuvaneshwar Kumar (10-0-92-1) and Hardik Pandya’s (5-0-47-0) struggles are a case in point.
The Board has tried to limit the damage caused by dew by advancing the start of the matches by an hour. But as we progress into winter months it would be prudent to either schedule these day-night matches in south and west India or further advance the start of the match by 90 minutes. These changes would minimise the effect of dew, not obviate it for sure.
Another fact, a pleasing one this time, is the manner in which batsmen have had to time their strokes and ensure that they play the ball off the sweet spot of the bat. The new ICC regulations that have pared down the thickness of the blade have ensured that mishits don’t sail over the boundary line like in the recent past.
Batsmen can no longer rely on their ‘jumbo-thick’ bats and raw power to whack the ball out of the park. They now need to fall back on middling the ball. The number of batsmen from either side who were caught off mishits at long-on, long-off and covers is testimony to the fact that the new regulations on bat size are restricting the impact of power-hitters.
Strokes that are well timed and hit off the meat of the bat fetch desired results. At other times batsmen have to pay the price for not adhering to the tenets of batting.
Both sides were affected by this. Indian innings’ finishing kick never had the desired effect as it lost wickets to mishits in the quest for slog-over runs. On the other hand, the Kiwis, despite having dew as their ally, were also hampered and thus fell tantalisingly short of the target.
As the season unfolds and stretches into T20 battles and beyond, India’s power-hitters have some thinking to do. They need to rework strategies. Their hitherto approach of simply lining up for the slog and throwing their ultra-thick bats at the ball is no longer a feasible option.
Who knows the art of batting might still reclaim the finesse that it once proudly endorsed.