India v New Zealand, 1st Test, Hyderabad, 2nd day August 24, 2012

The perils of defensive captaincy

New Zealand were in a position to put India under pressure on the first two days but Ross Taylor's captaincy was found wanting at crucial stages

What would be the moments from the ongoing India-New Zealand Test so far that you'd look back on? The poise and persistence with which Cheteshwar Pujara executed his maiden Test century, young Trent Boult's bolt to Tendulkar, or the tact with which R Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha spun a web around the hapless New Zealand batsmen towards the end of the second day. Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni's skilled batting display and Jeetan Patel's four-for may also cross your mind.

But if we observe more closely, we may realise that as much as this game has been about these defining moments, it has been equally, if not more, about the passages of play during which the New Zealand captain Ross Taylor let the Indian batting off the hook. While this doesn't take anything away from India, it gives a useful insight into Taylor and New Zealand's defensive mindset that has allowed the game to drift away from them.

Tests are a wonderful spectacle because they aren't so much about the final result as they are about the process. The team that wins more sessions also grasps fleeting opportunities, stays in the present and goes on to win more matches.

On a typical win-the-toss-and-bat-first-pitch, losing the toss can be very unfortunate. But for an XI that had included four bowlers who bowl seam-up, it could have very well been a blessing in disguise, because the deteriorating pitch can be exploited only if you have the right personnel. The pitch may offer a lot of turn and variable bounce on days four and five, but if you don't have quality spinners to make full use of the favourable conditions, it means precious little.

The pitch in Hyderabad, quite surprisingly, had a bit of moisture on the first morning. Chris Martin and Co responded beautifully to the opportunity by not only getting lateral movement off the surface but also by removing the three most experienced Indian batsmen quickly. When Virat Kohli walked in to join Pujara at 125 for 3, New Zealand had a realistic opportunity to spring a surprise on the hosts. Another wicket at the time could have opened the floodgates, given Suresh Raina's tumultuous run in Test cricket. But instead of inflicting damage with the fast bowlers, Taylor chose to continue with Jeetan Patel from one end till Kohli found his feet.

Instead of dealing with the present and tightening the noose, Taylor chose to give his fast bowlers a breather so they could last if New Zealand had to bowl 150 overs. Instead of finding ways to bowl India out on the first day itself, he was occupied with the thought of keeping his bowlers relatively fresh for day two. Spin from one end was never going to pose tough questions for the young Indian batsmen, and they prospered.

Life rarely gives you a second opportunity to fix your mistakes, but that opportunity means something only if you've learnt your lessons the first time around. When Kohli and Raina fell in quick succession towards the end of the first day, Taylor had the chance to undo the past. MS Dhoni's preference for spinners over seam bowlers is no secret so it was commonsense to bring back Martin or Boult as soon as Raina departed. But Taylor chose a part-time bowler in Kane Williamson to operate from round the stumps with just a slip in place. It allowed Dhoni to ease himself into some batting form.

Instead of dealing with the present and tightening the noose, Taylor chose to give his fast bowlers a breather so they could last if New Zealand had to bowl 150 overs. Instead of finding ways to bowl India out on the first day itself, he was occupied with the thought of keeping his bowlers relatively fresh for day two

The argument in favour of continuing with spin was that the second new ball was around the corner, and more importantly New Zealand were way behind the over-rate. Wouldn't you rather face some penalty than allow the opposition to run away with the game? In any case, over-rate fines are handed out on the basis of a team's over-rate in the entire match and not for one innings alone. Taylor, therefore, could have taken care of that matter in their second innings.

As far as the availability of the second new ball was concerned, well, it can only yield wickets if there's a specific plan to make it happen. Taylor had a deep point and deep square leg for both batsmen even with the new ball during the closing moments of the first day and also on the second morning, which not only allowed easy singles but encouraged the bowlers to pitch shorter. The best way to take wickets with the new ball on subcontinental pitches is to bowl a lot fuller, and if you start setting fields for bad balls, the chances of taking wickets diminish.

There's an old saying in India: "If you have got the wrestler on the mat, make sure that you crush him completely, because if he manages to slip away from your grasp, he will beat you to death." Whenever you are up against a stronger opposition, it's imperative to make every opportunity count and finish them quickly. The longer the battle, the slimmer your chances.

Former India opener Aakash Chopra is the author of Out of the Blue, an account of Rajasthan's 2010-11 Ranji Trophy victory. His website is here and his Twitter feed here

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  • Dummy4 on August 30, 2012, 7:37 GMT

    siddhartha87 on (August 25 2012, 20:07 PM GMT) - Love your comment and could not agree more.

  • Dummy4 on August 27, 2012, 21:43 GMT

    His game has suffered too. dropped catches, no big score or meaningful innings since he was captain. McCullum is a better player and always played with confidence. He'd be a better option. But NZ is the golden child of cricket. with very few players playing and in a low quality domestic competition, the nz cricket team are like a rare orchid that is beautiful but hard to find. Every player in the world would go through much heart ache, walk long distances and forge in the unknown to be part of team that has more meaning than any other. "Played for australia?" big deal. "India" billions of them. NZ "wow! that would be amazing...'

  • Beau on August 27, 2012, 6:44 GMT

    I wonder if NZ made the right call promoting Taylor over Baz. I was all for it at the time, but the few times I've seen Baz captain, he seems to lift. Ross just seems like the captaincy is a weight around his neck. His batting is always a bit hit-and-miss, but his poor fielding seems to show how muddled he is at the moment. First step is getting the right team on the paddock though. It won't be a silver bullet, but NZ need to play to their strength, which is seam bowling. Martin, for all his heart, is not going to routinely get 2 or 3 early. Southee or Boult just might. Both these guys', and Wagner and Bracewell's, figures would be much more flattering if the slip fielders would help them out a bit. Patel or Nethula, or both, need the seamers to get sides to 3 or 4 down before they can do their thing. Risk the over-rate and go hard at 'em! 2nd Test: MG, Baz, Kane, Ross, Franklin, BJ, Wagner, Southee, (Bracewell/Patel), Nethula, Boult.

  • Sanjaya on August 27, 2012, 1:37 GMT

    Get under 19 indian captain in the team he is a star all the best india

  • VENKATACHALAM on August 26, 2012, 7:36 GMT

    The defensiveness of Taylor started with the selection of the XI itself. They needed to pick 5 bowlers. Neil Wagner would have been very useful in place of Flynn or James Franklin(who is basically an average batsman who bowls friendly trundlers)

  • Dummy4 on August 25, 2012, 22:14 GMT

    The NZ cricket team is, as a whole' simply not up to the stadard of first class international cricket. Bangladesh, Zimbabie, Ireland---that's NZ's league. This Indian tour is just a waiste of space, money and effort. It would have been more useful to send the team to play against a few club teams in Indian,for practice. Instead we have a disgrace.

  • siddhartha on August 25, 2012, 20:07 GMT

    its funny that akash chopra comments about being defensive

  • Dummy4 on August 25, 2012, 17:40 GMT

    Amazing, nobody bothered mentioning the same negative Captaincy of Dhoni in those 8 overseas tests with both ENG & AUS. Instead The fab four were blamed. Everyone gets old, true, but they took IND to no1 with a very weak bowling unit. That team never won series in SA & AUS cos of negative captaincy, not lack of opportunities. They are past their best but only Kohli & maybe Pujara actually earned their place. Something to note, Sehwag & Dravid got their maiden Test Century in SA, Ganguly in ENG & think Laxman got it in Aus, certainly Kohli as well. So Kohli as a big career ahead. As for the others who were given places, don't expect much when they tour SA(my home) in 2013

  • Unni on August 25, 2012, 14:03 GMT

    Ashley Brackstone : But would love to see the Poms and Aussies soon in India and how well this team does against them.I feel Poms might have a really hard time with their inept batsmen playing spin but Aussies will do better

  • Prince on August 25, 2012, 13:25 GMT

    The moment Dravid and Laxman allowed youngsters to get into the team, Pujara has shown it was a right decision. Now Sachin also has to follow suit, as I believe it would really painful to be a youngster like Rahane in Indian team, who has to sit on bench, while watching a 40 year old sachin paddin up.... and to all those who say Sachin is in the team due to his ability, the way he got out clean bowled in this match,plus the last 8 test matches proves it's otherwise..

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