India vs New Zealand: Series won, but hosts didn't learn a single new thing, unearthed zero new talents
After a grueling three-Test five-ODI series, the answer to the question 'Did Indian cricket officialdom learn anything' must be either 'No!' or 'nothing new
Amit Mishra epitomises the skewed nature of India's cricket selection. A superb haul of five wickets for 18 runs from six overs in Saturday's final ODI against New Zealand highlighted India's series-clinching win. However, any temptation to dub him the "find of the series" must be staunchly resisted. The leg-spinner, who made his ODI debut way back in 2003, has yet played only 36 games in the interim period — an average of less than three ODIs a year. This record reflects the Indian selectors' indecisiveness along with attendant follies.
Thus, after a grueling three-Test five-ODI series, the answer to the question "Did Indian cricket officialdom learn anything" must be either "No!" or "nothing new". Neither in the Tests nor ODIs did India unearth or groom a single new talent. Perhaps about the only good thing about the series at all was that it gave Virat Kohli greater time, scope and opportunity to slip into hsi groove as skipper.
It probably would have helped young KL Rahul too, to consolidate his position as opener, but an injury sidelined him. This ensured that veteran Sikhar Dhawan and even Gautam Gambhir were pushed right back into the playing XI with consequences that are only too well-known to warrant repetition.
That New Zealand would struggle to find their feet in Indian conditions was never in doubt. The three Tests where the Kiwis were blown away by 197, 178 and 321 runs respectively, were further reconfirmation.
But on truer pitches, in ODIs, the visitors put up a better show and leveled the series, before India resorted to its time-tested formula: Make the pitch sluggish, where the old ball does not come on to the bat and add a bit of variable bounce from the Indian bowlers' length.
The results were petrifying for the Kiwis. Even after familiarising themselves for more than seven weeks in India, they collectively flopped at the first hint of a typical Indian pitch. Bundled out for 79 runs proved that their batsmen were as clueless on the last day as they were on the first.
The one saving grace was the batting of young, 24-year-old Tom Latham, son of former Kiwi all-rounder Rod Latham. The left-hander topped their overall batting with a tally of 438 runs at an average of 43.8. His 244 runs at 61 in ODIs went very well with the 194 runs at 32.33 in Tests. Only Luke Ronchi made more in the Tests, getting 200 runs at 33.33. Latham played spin pretty well. He revealed a good temperament and has all the traits to become a long-term asset for the Kiwis.
The Kiwis' pace attack proved that it could be a handful on pitches more conducive to their kind of bowling. Trent Boult is a world-class left-arm paceman and his 16 wickets on the tour (10/333 in Tests & 6/198 in ODIs) proves it.
For India, they were no real takeaways. They were expected to win the Tests — which they did handsomely — and ODIs, where the Kiwis proved to be more resistant than expected.
Master batsman Virat Kohli (358 runs at 119.33), skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni (192 at 38.4) and Ajinkya Rahane (143 at 28.6) reveled in the shorter format, while in Tests, Cheteshwar Pujara (373 runs at 74.6) finished top of the charts, with Rahane (347 at 69.4) and Kohli (309 at 51.5) following.
The Kiwis did not get this sort of solidity at the top, especially in the Tests, where off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin was in scintillating form. He bagged three five-wicket hauls and one four-wicket haul in his record 27 scalps, to completely dominate proceedings.
For good measure, Ravindra Jadeja (14/337) and Mohammed Shami (8/243) were also at hand to provide strong support. However, their presence meant that there were not too many opportunities to groom fresh talent.
The decision to rest the three main bowlers to keep them fresh for the forthcoming series against England ensured that Mishra (15/215), Umesh Yadav (8/236) and Jaspreet Bumrah (6/132), among others, got an opportunity to flex their muscles.
Dhoni batting at number four provided a new dimension in ODIs. But the team certainly needs a lot more beef at the top, and in the lower middle-order. The series win cannot gloss over obvious fault lines there.
In all, series wins are something to cherish, and along with the earlier triumph over the West Indies, should stand the team in the right frame of mind for tougher battles. Nothing can be more satisfying for players and the Indian public than a resounding thrashing of England, come the home series in November.
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