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In Bangalore, the visitors showed pluck and glimpses of the skills in their possession. Now, they must sustain their desire to do well in Test cricket
September 4, 2012
Five losses out of the last seven Tests makes poor reading for New Zealand, but there remains a feeling of respite in the aftermath of the Bangalore defeat. Despite a winning margin of five wickets, with Indian partnerships of 77 and 96 in the final innings, there was a sense of fight in the New Zealand ranks; something the first Test shambles lacked.
The Hyderabad loss left a taste of insipid apathy; the Bangalore loss reinvigorated the Test appetite. Losing in a decent contest earns respect. New Zealand demonstrated pluck through the batting of captain Ross Taylor, the bowling of a youthful pace attack and the guile of offspinner Jeetan Patel. Even at 32, Patel showed he is an alternative coming out from Daniel Vettori's shadow. In the second innings, Patel was treated lightly by Virender Sehwag and Suresh Raina before bowling them, while Cheteshwar Pujara was hesitant before flicking a catch. Patel deserved his three wickets in challenging circumstances.
Unlike December's victory over Australia, New Zealand could not drag the Test their way. In that match in Hobart - also minus Vettori - they were assisted by a strip with bite. Bangalore provided more of a contest for bat and ball, where the will of India captain MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli proved unbreakable.
Yet, until the last few balls, the pair had to work hard. The contest made for an absorbing evening's viewing in New Zealand. Fans could afford to shelve channel-surfing contingency plans.
Ross Taylor's first-innings century and aggressive captaincy - placing a regular three slips in the cordon for Southee and a short leg and silly point for Patel in the fourth innings - showed a maturity and a quiet fury to propel his team into a better era. He was rewarded with tight bowling for moderate periods. Taylor backed his hunches; like refusing Patel the right to put a man back after Sehwag blasted him for a six over long-off. Sehwag was bowled three balls later.
Sadly for New Zealand, Taylor was given little top order batting support in the first innings as he eased to his seventh test century. Fifty to 100 more runs could have taken New Zealand out of danger. Likewise, in the second innings, no New Zealand batsman could fully dominate the spinners, with seven batsmen scoring between 22 and 41. The hosts faced a manageable 261 to haul in, despite it being a record fourth-innings chase on that ground.
|The Hyderabad loss left a taste of insipid apathy; the Bangalore loss reinvigorated the Test appetite. Losing in a decent contest earns respect|
Tim Southee, backed by like-minded aggression from Trent Boult and Doug Bracewell, produced a gifted spell to knock India back. His 7 for 64 that places him sixth on the list of all-time best New Zealand bowling performances. His ability to trouble India's line-up by moving the ball to and fro was a credit to his mental aptitude after he earned inclusion at the expense of veteran Chris Martin.
Inspirational moments peppered the fielding performance too, like Daniel Flynn scampering crab-like from short leg to take a one-handed catch off the in-form Pujara.
Hopefully, though, New Zealand fans can resist reverting to apologist-speak like "rebuilding" and "moving forward" to describe the current team. Those excuses tire quickly in an era where there is more exposure to the international game than ever before from age-group level up. There is plenty of talent but more consistency is required. On the bowling front the India batsmen worked too many loose balls to the boundary with their wrists or "on-the-up" limited-overs style. The batting top order remains more miss than hit with porous defence.
Taylor said afterwards they were disappointed with how they played in Hyderabad and wanted to show some fight and courage. They did so, but the onus is now on the players to avoid losing that desire to apply themselves in the longer form. For several of the team, patience is about to be replaced with premeditation at the World Twenty20. The Sri Lanka Test series is shortly afterwards and New Zealand need to further demonstrate that they have serious aspirations in the Test game to keep the public with them.
Andrew Alderson is cricket writer at New Zealand's Herald on SundayFeeds: Andrew Alderson
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Stats highlights from the fourth ODI between India and West Indies in Dharamsala