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The format may have changed, but once again, a poor bowling display has already left the Indian batsmen with plenty to do
Abhishek Purohit in Auckland
February 6, 2014
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Ishant Sharma protested vehemently to the contrary, but by the end of the first day's play it seemed clear that India had suffered a post-lunch dip in intensity that gave New Zealand the early running. Having reduced New Zealand to 30 for 3 after winning the toss under overcast skies, India watched on as Kane Williamson and Brendon McCullum first stabilised the innings and then gave it momentum.
Asked whether India's intensity had dipped after lunch, Ishant's reply was emphatic - though unconvincing. "I don't think so. You can see that we did not let their run-rate get high at any point," he said. "It was always under control. Even as the wicket got flat and the ball got old, we kept bowling in the right areas. What is in our hand is that when the wicket goes flat, you have to be patient and see how to create pressure."
Williamson and McCullum put up 221 in 51 overs, a scoring-rate close to four-and-a-half an over. Most of those runs came after lunch, when both Williamson and Ishant said the pitch eased out. India probably think allowing two opposition batsmen to score at that rate on a flattening surface is acceptable.
The visitors also put down some catches, including that of Williamson's on 32. They kept bowling short and conceded boundaries to cuts, pulls and hooks, both top-edged and middled. All their three fast bowlers were down on their normal pace for most of the day. Their spinner, who was picked to keep a check on the run-rate, went for 81 runs in 20 overs. Their fielding suffered as well. Singles became doubles as the players ambled after strokes, expecting the ball to roll into the boundary. If all this does not point to a dip in intensity, nothing does.
To say that India let the momentum slip away is an understatement. It was wrenched away from them by two batsmen in flow, and the disappointing part was, India went too flat too soon in face of that fightback. Yes, the pitch eased out considerably after lunch. And at the toss, it was indeed a no-brainer to bowl, given the green below and grey above. But unless New Zealand have bowled on the pitch as well, the verdict on exactly how much bite it has lost, has to wait.
MS Dhoni had said his fast bowlers would have to run in as hard in their fourth spell as they did in their first in these conditions. But Zaheer Khan, the long-time leader of the attack, was found wanting even in his first spell. Zaheer's speed was in the early-to-mid 120s at the start, and no matter how canny or experienced a bowler you are, you cannot hope to worry teams consistently with that pace.
Maybe it would have all been completely different had Peter Fulton's catch been held off the first ball Zaheer bowled, or if few of his deliveries that beat the bat had taken the edge. That wasn't to be, though.
Unusually for Zaheer, he seemed unable to make a comeback. He's turned games so often for India after a luckless or even ordinary start. There wasn't reverse swing to be had on this thick outfield, but even allowing for that, Zaheer's lack of penetration was too glaring. He sent down 23 expensive overs in the day. What India wouldn't have given for just 15 sharp ones.
Mohammed Shami was unlucky to not break through at the start after roughing up the openers with some lifters. But he overdid the short ball, as did the other two quick bowlers. Those poor deliveries were asking to be hit, and New Zealand duly obliged, picking them for boundaries.
Ishant did not think India were too liberal with the bouncer. "I think we bowled in pretty good areas. They played good shots. We bowled enough bouncers and they kept on playing the pull over the top of the keeper and the slip cordon. You can't control all this." New Zealand took ten boundaries off pulls or hooks. Six of those were off the middle of the bat, four were top edges, and they also cut five short and wide ones for fours.
For once, you could sympathise with MS Dhoni for slowly removing a slip here, a gully there, and putting an extra man on the boundary. He tried to attack for as long as he could, but with the bowlers leaking so many runs, his hands were tied.
Even Ravindra Jadeja, who Dhoni relies so much on for containment, began with successive poor deliveries down the leg side. Jadeja's strength is his line but that was astray right from the start. He had a worse economy-rate than two of the fast bowlers.
India cannot even say that they were undercooked, as they often are, going into this game. Three of these four bowlers had been part of the one-dayers. Zaheer had a decent, albeit lone, workout in the warm-up match. The format may have changed, but India's bowlers have left the batsmen with the catch-up role to play yet again.
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