India v New Zealand, 2nd Test, Hyderabad, 5th day November 16, 2010

New Zealand's grit holds them in good stead

ESPNcricinfo staff
Their collective tenacity and professionalism has helped the visitors match up to the challenge of playing the world's No. 1 team

They were of varying length and in different guises but most of the questions put to Daniel Vettori after the Hyderabad Test was drawn were born from a common sentiment: one of surprise at how a team ranked No. 8, having been humiliated in one-day internationals by Bangladesh, had managed to hold the No. 1 Test side to a 0-0 scoreline after two matches. They sought to determine whether Vettori was relieved at the results, whether New Zealand felt a sense of achievement, and whether they would spend the hour-long bus ride back to their hotel feeling satisfied and contented. The more pertinent question, though, is: how has this come to pass?

The bulk of the blame from the Indian camp, and the captain MS Dhoni is the primary finger-pointer, has been slathered on the unresponsive tracks prepared at Motera and in Hyderabad. A fair share of the criticism is justified since the pitches at both venues stayed unreasonably flat on all five days and made bowling as appealing as going to the dentist. A weaker reason is the injury to India's primary wicket-taker Zaheer Khan on the fourth day of the second Test. He would have been dangerous, but not that dangerous.

To not credit this New Zealand team as a whole for their collective tenacity, and the individuals comprising it for their strength in overcoming unique challenges, however, would be to ignore the fundamental reasons for their success across time and formats: their whole has always been greater than the sum of the parts.

A statistic bandied about in the lead-up to the tour was that the entire New Zealand squad had fewer Test runs than Sachin Tendulkar. At present, seven New Zealand batsmen have more runs in the series than him. And they have been made in adversity.

In Ahmedabad, New Zealand were in strife during their response to India's strong first-innings total when Jesse Ryder and Kane Williamson began their partnership. Ryder was returning to Test cricket after an injury layoff, Williamson was beginning his Test career. Failure at that juncture would have been a disappointment but it would also have been understood and forgiven. In Hyderabad, the heroes were a batsman who had just made a pair, another who had been dropped for the first Test, and a third who was new to the challenges of being a Test opener.

Ryder responded by batting with a calmness that had traces of Inzamam-ul-Haq to it. He is unflustered at the crease, and he has all the shots. And speed. Tim McIntosh proved he possessed the temperament to handle a struggle and play aggressively once on the other side of it. Martin Guptill spoke of the preparation he had put in to cope with Indian spin, and though his test wasn't of the highest standard, his efforts showed. Brendon McCullum used his attacking skills in his new role to wipe out New Zealand's deficit quicker than most would have expected, and as a result they were under extreme pressure for a shorter duration. And Williamson, whose genial celebration of his maiden century won hearts in this age of aggression, exhibited his forcefulness by striking Sreesanth for three fours in the first over of the final day. Those boundaries effectively signalled the end of India's victory aspirations, even before Zaheer trudged off the field.

"The top order came here under pressure from what had happened in Bangladesh but they've responded exceptionally well," Vettori said. "Particularly the two openers in this game, Brendon in his second Test match as an opener and Tim McIntosh coming off a pair, were outstanding and really set up the platform in both innings to allow us to score some pretty good totals. So the likes of Williamson and Ryder in the first Test, and McIntosh and McCullum in this one, have really allowed us to be at our best."

The batting apart, New Zealand were also expected to struggle to take 20 wickets. They managed it in Ahmedabad, and they've also bowled with rigorous discipline that disrupted the pace at which India are accustomed to scoring at home. Vettori didn't grumble about the pitches either, despite bowling a total of 142.3 overs, the most in the series. He's toiled manfully, like a captain should, bowling until his arm is sore and has 11 wickets, again the most in the series, to show for his efforts. He granted himself the luxury of a rest when India had a jolly hit during the final session of play in Hyderabad, but has otherwise been the crux of New Zealand's campaign.

New Zealand haven't complained about pitches and the lack of UDRS, or made too much about adjusting to Indian conditions. They've played the series in wonderful spirit - heartily applauding Harbhajan's game-changing innings and not responding to Sreesanth's prickly behaviour

New Zealand's pace attack - led by Chris Martin and Tim Southee - has not attempted to overachieve on these deadest of pitches. They've bowled to well-set fields designed to save the single and worn India's batsmen down. An inspired spell from Martin aside, during which India crumbled to 15 for 5 at Motera, they were unlikely to cut through the most-celebrated batting line-up in the world. Instead, they relied on a relentless accuracy and it has brought them steady results. The key to New Zealand's bowling success, however, has been their fielding and that is one discipline no one expected them to struggle in. The flying Kiwis have taken sharp catches at slip and prevented countless boundaries with precise anticipation, agile movement and a well-timed dive in the in-field. McCullum provides the energy and is at the heart of the fielding effort. On his watch, few shots get past cover.

The underpinning factor that has made all this achievable, however, has been their mindset and the utter professionalism with which they prepare and play. They haven't complained about pitches and the lack of UDRS, or made too much about adjusting to Indian conditions. They've played the series in wonderful spirit - heartily applauding Harbhajan's game-changing innings and not responding to Sreesanth's prickly behaviour. Their approach has been one of understated grit.

New Zealand have now held India to draws in their last four Tests. In two of them, India had to do the surviving. Vettori's team will still be expected to lose in Nagpur, though. If they don't, it will be a surprise again. That is the lot of this hard-working team that has punched above its weight.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on November 18, 2010, 14:25 GMT

    the kiwis deserve to win the series more than india deserve to lose it

  • Wolver on November 18, 2010, 13:19 GMT

    Well done NZ. India were far too overconfident in writing off NZ and have been lucky not to have paid for it with a loss. Hope NZ can pull a upset in the third test.

  • Ganesh on November 18, 2010, 10:46 GMT

    As long as the Indian curators /BCCI keep building flat , batting friendly pitches, it will remain pointless to play any tests in India. A lot has been said about the bad quality of the Indian pace attack. Why is it not realized that the reason for this is because of the dead-as-a-doornail pitches our pacers are faced with. Test cricket is meaningful only on surfaces where it is possible for a side to take twenty wickets in five days, and that means having fast and bouncy pitches which can aid fast bowlers. We can only hope that our chaps will get their pace bowling in order before the South Africa tour. We will get murdered otherwise.

  • surya on November 18, 2010, 7:09 GMT

    A team's fast bowler should threaten the batsman atleast for a few overs but with sreesanth and ishanth, batsman gets settled before the first ball. we have a basket of worst bowlers and picking the most worst out of it. zaheer being an exception. Now baaji is considered as all-rounder then what about our great jadeja... what will he do... dhoni would think of playing 2 allrounders in the team. "Any way winning is important" Dhoni.

  • Mars on November 18, 2010, 4:14 GMT

    When India draws a match even after dominating the game it is like a defeat when Pakistan draws a match by skin of their teeth their captain thinks it is victory. That shows what a depth the pakistan cricket has fallen to ! At the same time it shows India is expecting so much more of its cricketers and is not ready to settle for anything but victory. Truly amazing!!

  • Sam on November 18, 2010, 3:48 GMT

    It is great to see New Zealand bounce back from defeat in Bangladesh. Apart from their top order woes it is also pretty obvious that Bangladesh have improved in the last few years and will likely prove a handful for more than New Zealand. This is an exceptionally well balanced side but maybe a tad short of bowling. NZ has always been a team dominated by allrounders and Ryder opening the batting as well as playing a major role in the bowling is evidence of this. What it does do though is provide a break for the frontline bowlers and vary the type of lines and deliveries the batsmen are facing. I look forward to this team gelling well and starting to perform consistently to their abilities.

  • wayne on November 18, 2010, 2:23 GMT

    I think the main thing holding these teams to a draw is their bowling - both teams are coming up a bit short here, and the pitches have obviously not been helpful either. However, I think the final match - if there's a sporting declaration or two involved - should produce a great contest. Both teams have a lot to prove (India that they deserve to be #1; NZ that they are a competitive side), and I really look forward to seeing what happens in Nagpur. And to those who are discrediting Bangladesh's victory over NZ: the Bangladeshi side have talent in spades and play in the right spirit (not unlike NZ, actually), and they're right on the cusp of breaking through...finally. The victory over NZ would have done wonders for their self belief (and they weren't easy wins, either), and I think in the next few years they will really start to string the performances together and prove they deserve to be playing in the top tier of cricket.

  • Dummy4 on November 17, 2010, 19:05 GMT

    NZ has always been a thorn in India's side ...

  • dhoni on November 17, 2010, 18:09 GMT

    @to Taranis hello martin is not such excitic..And for that reason india didnt lost 5 early wickets because the main drawback at that time was sehwag run out that changed the course and it will let to take martin 5 wickets.. If sehwag there means sehwag take charge on them and he even afraid to bowl overs.. Then there wont be 5 wickets.. Main drawback sehwag run out.. It will cause all evil.. He is the only batsmen collapse the plan of the opponent.. and make the bowler in tied situation.. Dont forget martin has been hammered by sehwag for 11boundaries in first test,5 boundaries in 2nd test.. He just faced martin for short time.. But hammer lot.. So Dont get sehwag down and say him ordinary or poor...

  • Javed on November 17, 2010, 17:56 GMT

    lifeless wicket was prepared for sachin for his 50th hundred. sorry it was McCullum who made double. Performance in crunch time make u great player not the records on lifeless wickets.

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