India vs New Zealand: Dominant hosts check every box; Kiwis face barrage of questions
India completed an emphatic 3-0 whitewash in the Test series against New Zealand after winning the Indore Test by a massive margin of 321 runs with a day to spare.
When the New Zealand cricket team set off from Auckland for a three Test tour of India, there was plenty of hope from Kane Williamson and his men. The squad appeared to have all that it took to shake the hosts off their perch in their own backyard.
But less than a month later, they have been handed what can be termed as one of their worst defeats in recent times. Starting off the series with a touch of aggression, the Black Caps went on to surrender themselves meekly before Virat Kohli and his band of hometrack bullies.
The series reached its conclusion on the fourth day of the final match at Indore, where the din produced by a holiday crowd formed the essence of the joyous occasion that was its inaugural Test fixture, and India duly recorded their second-biggest win of all time in terms of runs to complete a clean sweep.
Having pulled off what turned out to be only their fourth whitewash in a Test series of three matches or more, Test captain Virat Kohli has taken another giant stride in his captaincy. He has led his side back to the top of the ICC Test rankings and ensured that they safeguard their stay there for some time thanks to the 3-0 blanking.
Despite the scoreline, however, it's not like the Kiwis went down without a fight over the course of the series. Their spinners did a fine job of containing the Indian batsmen in the first Test at Kanpur. When it was their turn to bat, skipper Kane Williamson displayed the class that earned him a mention alongside the likes of Kohli, Joe Root and Steve Smith.
Mitchell Santner proved his ability as a long-term all-round prospect for the Black Caps by performing both with bat and ball; Jeetan Patel made an impressive return to the Test side after more than three years; pacers Trent Boult and Matt Henry made life difficult for the Indian batsmen on a non-typical Eden track.
There were more moments when the visitors looked to lock the balance of the game in their favour, only to lose steam in the end. Nothing encapsulates this like the manner in which they capitulated in the final session of the fourth day in Indore. From a score of 38 for 1, they were bundled out for a paltry 153 to concede the series in a manner that has not been associated with the side since their Brendon McCullum-led resurgence.
India, on the other hand, could not have started their long home season off in a more dominant fashion. The series was a landmark one for them, with their 500th Test and 250th home Test being part of the line-up, and the 3-0 result lends credit to the notion that the current side is near unbeatable at home.
With the conclusion of the series, let us now analyse the performances of the two sides in the series:
Highs: As captain Kohli pointed out in the post-match presentation ceremony, it was a complete team performance from the hosts, with batsmen and bowlers both playing equal part in tightening their grip over the Kiwis.
Individually speaking, Cheteshwar Pujara managed to seal his place in the side with a series of consistent scores that helped him end as the highest run-getter in the series. After a missing out on his eighth Test century in the first two games, he finally brought it up in 147 balls in front of the Holkar crowd.
The other biggest individual gain was Gautam Gambhir — the discarded Indian opener, who finally managed to earn a place in the side after injuries to openers KL Rahul and Shikhar Dhawan. The half-century he hammered in the second innings at Indore will add to the selectors' conundrum over picking Murali Vijay's opening partner.
For once, Rohit Sharma exceeded expectations by getting three 50s. Plenty of questions were asked about his selection to the Test squad, but the Mumbai batsman shut his critics up by getting quick runs down the order and accelerating the innings.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar also showed he is truly back in form, utilising the seamer-friendly conditions at the Eden Gardens brilliantly to scalp five wickets in the first innings.
Lows: While there aren't too many negative points to talk about, first-choice opener Vijay's performances at Kolkata and Indore does leave some room for improvement. The Tamil Nadu batsman struck 50s in both innings at Kanpur, but suffered soft dismissals in the next couple of games.
Stand-out performer: No prizes for guessing the winner here. With 27 wickets at an average of 17 and a strike-rate of 32, Ravichandran Ashwin takes all the gold away. The wily off-spinner just concluded what can be described as one of his most dominant outings in a bilateral series ever, and it was often a vicious spell from hell that reduced the Black Caps to tatters.
Road ahead: The hosts have kicked their long home Test season off in style with a whitewash, and have sent a stern warning to England and Australia, who play five and four Tests respectively in the coming months. The team combination for these pitches is largely expected to remain the same.
Highs: Black Caps' skipper Williamson was visibly crestfallen at the post-match presentation ceremony, but reinforced the fact that there were a few positives and a plenty of lessons for them.
Among the biggest takeaways was the emergence of Santner as a Test all-rounder. While there still is a plenty of room for him to improve, the youngster started drawing comparisons with Kiwi spin legend Daniel Vettori after his exploits with bat and ball in Kanpur (32 and 71 runs, with five wickets).
Much was expected from the skipper, but it was ultimately Luke Ronchi who emerged the leading run-getter for New Zealand. Given his century as an opener in the warm-up match in Delhi, he could even be considered as a replacement for the struggling Martin Guptill at the top of the order.
Lows: There is little doubt over Williamson's credentials as a world-class batsman. However, the fact that he failed to live up to his own expectations, barring a fluent 75 in his first innings in the series, is something that will pinch both him and the team for quite some time.
The fact that he was dismissed in all four innings by Ashwin, most of them in similar fashion — getting foxed by the extra turn from outside off — hardly helps his case.
Standout performer: Ronchi, for his consistent runs down the order, and for constructing valuable partnerships with the likes of Santner and wicketkeeper BJ Watling. His contributions helped save the Kiwis from further embarrassment.
Road ahead: The Black Caps will now set their sights on the 50-over format, with the five-match ODI series coming up. The squad features the likes of established all-rounder Corey Anderson, with pacer Tim Southee also expected to recover from an ankle injury that had earlier ruled him out from the Tests.
As far as Tests are concerned, there's a lot of ground to cover for them, as they slip to seventh in the ICC Test rankings. The two-Test series against Pakistan back home in November will be quite a challenge, with Misbah-ul-Haq's men producing quality performances in England earlier this summer.
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