The rewards of restraint
Lou Vincent plays a lofted off-drive on the way to his hundred
At 224 for no loss this afternoon, Rahul Dravid summoned India's famous World Cup huddle. At 231, a wicket fell. For the rest of the day, the most of it anyway, New Zealand's openers ground India clinically. Did India lack intensity? "We miss Ganguly's captaincy," declared one poster. Television commentators had their views. "Captain too laidback", felt one. "Good that the bowling line-up has been given a reality check before Australia," felt another. Yet, the truth that these openers batted masterfully cannot be obfuscated.
In theory, Lou Vincent and Mark Richardson are the perfect opening pair: dashing and dour, left and right, youth and age, and excellent runners between the wickets both. But it hasn't always worked out. In 14 stands before this game, they have only once crossed 100; six times the partnership has been broken before 20.
Today, they were not stoppable. It was déjà vu Kolkata 1996-97, when Andrew Hudson and Gary Kirsten, a like-for-like replacement for this pair if ever there was one, batted and batted and batted on the first day. The only solace for India is that South Africa put up 339 on the day, while New Zealand today scored at less that 2.5-an-over, which might come to prove decisive in the manner it did for India in the previous Test.
Vincent's and Richardson's success can plausibly be put down directly to Vincent - or more specifically, his willingness become more like Richardson. He spoke after the game of how he spent the winter 'rebuilding his game'.
"I was seen as a player with every shot in the book," Vincent said, "but that also meant that there were a lot of ways of getting out. I would keep getting out in the 20s and 30s and that's just not good enough in international cricket. When I was dropped for the Tests in Sri Lanka, it sent a message. I began to work hard on sort of limiting my game. But I was told two months in advance that I would be opening the batting on this tour, and it gave me a lot of confidence."
And that sweep shot, how did he master that one? "I have a lot of leaves at home; I practiced sweeping those," he said with what appeared to be characteristic wit.
Rightly, Vincent considers his first century - at Perth, against Australia, on debut, in an unfamiliar position (he wasn't a regular opener in domestic cricket) - as a greater achievement than this. That innings marked Vincent out as special; so impressive was he that many were moved to call him the most exciting batting talent from New Zealand since Martin Crowe. In that innings Vincent also displayed the repertoire of shots that he has now worked on limiting.
"Back then the Aussies loved to call themselves the World Champions, as they do now," he said about that century, "and having spent five years of my youth in Adelaide, it was really special to go back to Australia and score a century in my first match. It is a day I will never forget."
Forgetting this day is what the Indians will need to do though, none more so than Parthiv Patel. The number of times he could not gather the ball at all was alarming. One such, on a throw from Rahul Dravid, could have accounted for Vincent for 29.
One of India's string of keepers in the past three years grumbled a while back, "When someone like me makes a mistake, the media goes on and on about it. But when Parthiv does it, they say he has a lot of potential." It is a fair point. It was probably just an off day, but it is time to stop treating Parthiv like a boy, because he is playing in a man's world.