December 16, 2002

New Zealand register their first series win against India

When the Indian team landed in New Zealand in February 1981 for the start of their tour, it was with their heads held high. They had come straight from Australia after a miraculous victory in the third and final Test at Melbourne. Completely against expectations they had defeated a formidable Australian side by 59 runs to be the first Indian side not to lose a series `Down Under'.


The problem for the Indians was that both the batting and bowling lacked consistency. The fact that no Indian batsman got a hundred whereas in each of the three Tests a front-ranking New Zealand batsman ­ skipper Geoff Howarth, John Reid and John Wright - got a century made for the clinching difference in the two sides.
But by 1981, New Zealand themselves were a pretty strong team with a record second to none. They were particularly powerful at home and only the season before had won a three-Test series against the West Indies, the No 1 cricketing nation. It was obvious then that even a confident Indian team had a job on their hands and so it proved.

New Zealand won the first Test at Wellington by 62 runs and the remaining two games at Christchurch and Auckland were drawn giving the hosts the rubber for the first time in seven attempts against India.

The problem for the Indians was that both the batting and bowling lacked consistency. The fact that no Indian batsman got a hundred whereas in each of the three Tests a front-ranking New Zealand batsman ­ skipper Geoff Howarth, John Reid and John Wright - got a century made for the clinching difference in the two sides.

The Indians' best was 78 by Chetan Chauhan in the second Test and Syed Kirmani in the third Test. The Kiwi seam quartet of Richard Hadlee, Lance Cairns, Martin Snedden and Gary Troup never allowed the batsmen to settle and the fact that out of the only two three-figure partnerships for India in the series, one was for the ninth wicket tells it own tale.

Symbolizing the Indian failure to get going was Gundappa Viswanath who aggregated only 64 runs from five innings while skipper Sunil Gavaskar was only a little better, averaging 25.20 from the same number of innings.

The bowling for a start was hampered by injuries. For the first Test, Dilip Doshi, Shivlal Yadav and Karsan Ghavri were on the injured list. Yadav missed the second Test too while Ghavri after playing in the second Test ­ which incidentally was his 39th and last game for India - was unavailable for the third Test. Doshi was back for the second and third Tests. But the injuries to the two main spinners resulted in the team management sending for Ravi Shastri.

The tall left-arm spinner from Bombay was then only 18 but had already exhibited his talent while leading the Indian under-19 side. Playing in a Ranji Trophy game at Kanpur when he received the summons to join the Indian team, Shastri flew halfway across the world and landed in Wellington on the eve of the first Test. With there being no specialist spinner, his inclusion in the playing eleven was a foregone conclusion.

Displaying the temperament of a veteran in addition to his youthful talent Shastri straightaway settled down as though he was playing another collegiate game. His first over was a maiden. Then a sharp return catch got rid off Jeremy Coney. After taking three for 54, Shastri went one better in the second innings. He dismissed Cairns, Snedden and Troup in four balls to end with figures of 3-0-9-3 as New Zealand were shot out for 100.

It is interesting to note, however, that in his first Test, he went in at No 10. By the end of the series he was the leading wicket-taker with 15 wickets at 18.46 apiece and in the third Test he batted at No 7.

But the discovery of Shastri as a long-term prospect was about the only crumb of comfort for the Indians. New caps were also given to other players like Yograj Singh, Kirti Azad and TE Srinivasan who failed to make the most of the opportunities. And compounding the problem was the comparative failure of the seniors.

The tour in fact marked the end of the road for Chauhan and his 114-run partnership with Gavaskar at Christchurch was their tenth and last three-figure partnership in Test cricket. Kapil Dev lived up to his reputation by taking seven wickets at Wellington but in the remaining two Tests took just one wicket in 52 overs. Like many others in the team, he seemed tired and jaded at the end of a long tour.

There was never any chance of a result in the rain-affected second Test at Christchurch but the Indians did make a last-ditch attempt to win the Auckland Test. In arrears by 128 runs, they posted a second innings total of 284 which left New Zealand four hours to get 157 on a well-worn pitch and fading light. They were 95 for five in 62 overs when bad light halted play.

A few interesting facts highlighted the series. Chauhan became the first batsman to amass 2000 runs in Test without scoring a century. In the second Test, Kirmani retired to have seven stitches on his jaw after attempting to hook a bouncer from Hadlee. Yashpal Sharma kept wickets but when he too was injured, substitute Bharath Reddy, a regular wicket keeper, did duty behind the stumps.

Playing his 34th Test at Christchurch, Hadlee became the first New Zealander to take 150 wickets in Tests. Wright who endured for 460 minutes and faced 434 balls in compiling 110 at Auckland completed his first hundred in Tests with a six. In the same Test, Doshi bowled 337 balls before taking his first wicket of the match.

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