The last time India were whitewashed in a bilateral ODI series of more than one game (vs West Indies, 1988/89), Sachin Tendulkar was yet to make his international debut. The last time India failed to win a single game in any ODI series/tournament (tri-series in Australia, 2014/15), they were still reigning world champions. How ironic that the run would end within 10 days of them inflicting a similar whitewash on the same opponents, even if in a different format!
India’s tour of New Zealand will enter its final leg — a two-match Test series — with honours even after two entirely one-sided contests, as the hosts redeemed themselves from a 5-0 pasting in the T20Is with a 3-0 sweep of the ODIs.
It comes as a rare blemish on India’s supreme run of performances in the recent past — Virat Kohli’s side had won 11 and drawn one of their 12 bilateral series across formats since the 2019 World Cup, and had only tasted defeat twice in their last 17 bilateral ODI series since January 2016.
The results, game by game, are sure to have irked the visiting contingent — at Hamilton, India failed to defend 347; at Auckland, they struggled in a chase of 274. “All three games, the composure and the way we fielded wasn’t good enough for international cricket,” the Indian skipper reflected in a scathingly honest admission after conceding the final rubber at Mount Maunganui.
That this loss was handed by a Kiwi outfit that was without captain Kane Williamson for the first two games, and without their entire first-choice pace attack throughout the affair, will only add to the anguish as the Indian camp sits down to dissect the defeat.
Here are the key takeaways from New Zealand’s 3-0 ODI series whitewash of India:
Kohli and Bumrah are human after all
Virat Kohli: 75 runs from three innings. Jasprit Bumrah: 30 wicketless overs for 167 runs. This in a series where India were without Rohit Sharma to begin with.
You take away the three top-performing assets of any team for any contest, and they’re bound to struggle; when they happen to be three of the best players in the format, things become more-than-uphill.
After belting back-to-back hundreds on tour in West Indies after India’s World Cup heartbreak, Kohli has returned 347 runs from nine innings — that’s still nearly 39 runs per innings, but when you raise the benchmark to a jaw-dropping average touching 60, the world starts looking at even these numbers as a ‘slump’.
The same is the case with Bumrah, too. The three wicketless games in New Zealand followed from a one-wicket haul in the ODIs against Australia, to leave the number one ranked bowler in the format with a single wicket from six ODIs and 56.1 overs in 2020 — at 287 runs per wicket. It would be foolish to write him off though, considering his astounding returns as recently as the preceding T20Is.
But what the impact of Kohli and Bumrah’s no-show in New Zealand (coupled with Rohit’s absence) does hint at is a need for more match-winners in the Indian ODI setup; for inspiration, they need only look at their Test match unit, which tends to produce a different game-changer every other outing.
Shaw, Agarwal fail to grab rare opening
Agreed, they were only going to a stop-gap arrangement, a brief fill-in. But given the health of the Indian top-order over the last seven years, it’s the unlikeliest spot to be occupied by a single new entrant, leave alone two in one go. And that’s the window Prithvi Shaw and Mayank Agarwal were provided with — only for them to leave without much of an impression at all.
To be fair, things did appear bright for the first half-hour of what was the maiden ODI for both, at Hamilton — as boundaries flew from the blades of both the inherently attack-minded batsmen, and the scorecard reached 50 without any dent, fans could have been forgiven for imagining the sight as a trailer to the future of Indian 50-over batting.
But the manner in which Shaw and Agarwal threw their wickets away, at Hamilton as well as through the rest of the series, was enough to indicate that they remain works-in-progress. Shaw, one would reckon, should be berating himself a bit more for the limp and lazy run-out he succumbed to at Mount Maunganui, having reached 40 — the highest score managed between him and Agarwal through their six innings.
In the immediate future, one of the two (Shaw being the likelier candidate) may have put their seemingly-certain Test spot in a small amount of doubt, not least because of the runs Shubman Gill has been piling up for India ‘A’ in other parts of New Zealand.
Iyer-Rahul: The end of India’s middle muddle?
Two positive lights out of an entire squad does seem rather low, but what a giant boost Shreyas Iyer and KL Rahul may have provided to India’s overall ODI scheme of things; what feels like a generation (in reality more like one World Cup cycle) has been lost trying to find India a solid middle-order — for the first time since the days of Yuvraj-Dhoni-Raina, it appears as though India, finally, have one.
Individually, as well as in tandem, Iyer and Rahul were on-song in the middle of the innings for the visitors.
With scores of 103, 52 and 62, Iyer became the first Indian middle-order (4-7) batsman to hit three successive scores of 50+ in ODIs since Ajinkya Rahane in 2015/16. Rahul had one low score in the second ODI at Auckland, but that was sandwiched between two sublime knocks. India’s newly-discovered man-for-all-limited-overs-duties now has three first innings appearances at number five, and his scores read 80 off 52, 88* off 64 and 112 off 113.
To sample just how barren India’s middle-order had been in recent times, chew on this: In their last 79 ODIs before the start of this New Zealand series, India had witnessed only one century from a middle-order batsman, which was Ambati Rayudu’s round 100 against West Indies at Mumbai in October 2018.
Iyer and Rahul also shared two century stands in the three games — that’s as many fourth-wicket 100+ stands as India had seen in 44 attempts from September 2017 till the end of the World Cup. Quite incredibly, ever since Iyer came back into the ODI fold — after the World Cup exit — India have now seen five 100+ stands for the fourth wicket in 11 games.
Yeah, we’ll continue to wonder what could have happened had he been on that flight to England.
Thakur running out of time, at least in ODIs
Shardul Thakur had been the highest wicket-taker in India’s T20I series sweep, taking eight wickets in the five games and making up for an ordinary economy rate (9.81) with a few clutch overs at the death. In the 50-over leg, however, he was left quite brutally exposed.
Thakur was hit for 80 in nine overs at Hamilton, and 87 in 9.1 at Mount Maunganui; an ‘improved’ showing in between at Auckland had still seen him go for 60 from his 10 overs. This leakiness is an increasingly, and infuriatingly, constant feature of the 28-year-old’s limited sample of ODI outings.
Thakur has gone at six or more runs per over eight times in 11 appearances — in five of these eight games, he’s ended up conceding more than eight-per-over. In his latest stint in the Indian ODI squad, since making a comeback during the series against West Indies in December, Thakur has played six matches, and his economy rates read thus: 6.87, 6.66, 8.60, 8.88, 6.00, 9.49. With only six wickets to his credit in this period, it’s not like he’s showing an ability to compensate with regular strikes.
What has worked in his favour, more than his bowling, is his ability to contribute a bit with the bat — but India need to be asking themselves at the moment whether those bits are enough to piece out a solid, winning combination looking ahead to the long-term ODI goal of 2023.
In that regard, Navdeep Saini’s thrill-a-minute 45 in the valiant chase at Auckland provided more than just comic relief: there’s only been one higher score from an Indian batsman coming in at nine or below in their last 261 ODIs since 9 November 2009.
NZ show the way, even with fringe attack
Where India struggled to piece together a single proper bowling effort, their opponents humbled them despite the absence of their entire first-choice pace attack. Trent Boult, Matt Henry and Lockie Ferguson - architects of that seismic semi-final win at Manchester last July — were all missing due to their respective injuries, but that didn’t prevent the Kiwis from enjoying the wood over India’s big bats.
The big-built Hamish Bennett was the most incisive of the lot, finishing with six wickets; four of them came in the final game, where his four-wicket haul included a death overs burst that prevented India from reaching a seemingly-achievable 300+ score.
Tim Southee appeared to have carried over his T20I (read: Super Over) despair to the ODIs when he was carted round at Hamilton (85 from 10 overs), but he rebounded with an inspired shift at Auckland — where a bout of sickness that had consumed half the squad couldn’t stop him from bursting through Kohli’s defenses in a crucial moment from that game.
The find of the series, though, would be Kyle Jamieson, who followed a man-of-the-match act at Auckland (where he castled Shaw and, more tellingly, Saini) with another disciplined showing in the series finale.
Mitchell Santner bowled 20 wicketless overs, and Ish Sodhi only delivered four in the opening game before being sent for the four-dayer against India ‘A’, but with Colin de Grandhomme consistently tough to get away, and James Neesham continuing his happy knack to get the breakthroughs, New Zealand were head-and-shoulders above India on the bowling front.
Black Caps punch above weight in Williamson’s absence
Punching above their weight — that’s a mantle forever intertwined with the Black Caps. Where their bowling unit displayed that characteristic in the absence of Boult-Henry-Ferguson, the batting had to do the same, too, with their talismanic captain unavailable for the first two games. And they did so, rather successfully.
Ross Taylor, true to his form of the past three years, led the line with match-winning efforts in the first two outings, meriting the player-of-the-series prize. Taylor’s imperious form since 2017 places him at the very top echelons of ODI batting — 2744 runs from 55 games at an average of 66.92.
Tom Latham, standing in as skipper while Williamson was away, played what was arguably the most telling innings of the series in the opener — from three off his first 13 deliveries, Latham swept himself out of his struggles, quite literally, to finish with 69 from 48, a knock which Kohli described as “the one that took away the momentum”.
Henry Nicholls impressed with his consistency from the top of the order, garnering a half-century and a 41 before his man-of-the-match-winning 80 at Mount Maunganui. Nicholls shared platform-setting opening stands in each of the three games with his senior partner, Martin Guptill — the pair improved with each outing, adding 85, 93 and 106, respectively. Guptill’s consecutive half-centuries in the last two games provides a huge source of relief for the Kiwi camp going forward — the 34-year-old had gone 10 innings without a fifty since New Zealand’s World Cup opener against Sri Lanka on 1 June 2019.
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The Indian team has turned into a mini-hospital with multiple players nursing injuries, so much so that it became difficult to field a fit playing XI for the fourth Test which began on Friday.
While Shardul Thakur and T Natarajan are also in contention, the former left-arm pacer feels the selection of Saini for the Sydney Test, starting Thursday, is a no-brainer if one goes by pure cricketing logic.
The 28-year-old Saini had bowled five balls of his eighth, and the innings 36th, over during the second session when he had to walk off the field because of the pain.