India in New Zealand 2013-14 February 19, 2014

A series lost from winning positions

India might have been winless in New Zealand but their young side created several winning positions. They have too much talent for results not to go their way sooner rather than later

India go back from New Zealand with a 40-run loss in Auckland and a disappointing draw in Wellington. While MS Dhoni spoke at length about the improvements he had seen in his side - and there were plenty of positives - with a bit more application and luck India could have taken the series 2-0.

Being optimistic is the way to go, but you were also left with the feeling that the management's expectations from the young side might not have been sky high. However, considering the positions they built for themselves, India should feel disappointed for not winning at all, especially when they won the toss each time on pitches that lost bite after the first couple of sessions.

India needed 185 to win with eight wickets remaining in Auckland. Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli had stunned New Zealand with an aggressive century partnership. Then Kohli went after Neil Wagner, lost his wicket and India eventually fell short by not too many. In Wellington, Kohli dropped Brendon McCullum on 9, and India could do nothing as the New Zealand captain converted a 246-run deficit into a 434-run lead.

The world can debate whether Dhoni should have had one or many slips, or placed Kohli five inches back at short mid-on, where he put McCullum down. McCullum himself had just one slip for large parts of India's second innings, and had no intention of pushing for a win given his belated declaration, but that will not matter to a world that concluded long ago that Dhoni is defensive and McCullum is aggressive.

In time, when the rush for finding causes subsides, history will record that McCullum played one of the great innings in Test cricket, with worthy support acts from BJ Watling and Jimmy Neesham. However, the fact remains, as Dhoni admitted, that India were unable to close out the match. More so in Wellington, and to a lesser extent in Auckland.

Through the series, Dhoni spoke about the need for his batsmen to capitalise when they were in. Barring the first-innings meltdown in Auckland, India posted 421, 438 and 166 for 3. There has never been any doubt about the potential of this top six, and in South Africa that potential had been evident in difficult conditions. In New Zealand, they showed that the potential is more likely to be fulfilled than wasted.

Dhawan's successive knocks of 98 and 115 have to be India's biggest individual gains from this series. He has shown the willingness and the ability to respect the conditions and the bowlers. Among the top six, only Rohit Sharma is without a big innings on either of these tours, although he did help Kohli bat time for the draw in Wellington. Before South Africa, India would have gladly taken five out of six.

It was refreshing to see Dhoni make crucial contributions with the bat in both Tests. He played on for 39 after rattling New Zealand in Auckland, but the 68 in Wellington once again showed how much he can hurt sides in Tests. Ajinkya Rahane's maiden hundred was almost flawless but it was Dhoni's assault on Wagner that turned the momentum India's way.

India's fast bowlers are not usually recipients of praise, but how quickly they came back from the poor display in the first innings in Auckland. Their intensity was a sight to watch as they rolled New Zealand for 105 in the second innings.

They did the job for Dhoni on a helpful day-one surface in Wellington too, but their second innings effort was gargantuan. It is perhaps possible to forget in this modern age that bowlers are still humans. For a 35-year old to have to deliver 51 overs in one innings must border on physical and mental torture. And for them to be full of purpose, and for him to zoom in with the third new ball as if he was starting a fresh innings was incredible. After the highs and lows of South Africa, and the surprising ineptness of the first innings at Eden Park, Zaheer Khan told us he is not just an on-field bowling coach yet.

For once, Ishant Sharma bowled like a man who has played 50-plus Tests, barring large parts of the Auckland first innings. In time Mohammed Shami will hopefully realise it pays to use some discretion while going flat out. And India already know they cannot keep dropping top opposition batsmen. Kane Williamson made them pay in Auckland, and McCullum in Wellington.

On the whole, it was the first innings with ball and bat in Auckland that cost India the series. They had more than their share of chances and sooner rather than later they are bound to take their share of the spoils as well. They have too much collective and individual promise not to. But New Zealand 2014 is the one that got away.

Abhishek Purohit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on February 23, 2014, 7:03 GMT

    Dhoni is repsonsible in a large way in India not able to win from winning positions. One thing to note is Dhoni includs Jadeja as a frontline spinner. There was a time when Kumble and Bhajji were hand full even in overseas conditions. But Dhoni does not trust his spinners at all. One fact to note is that Pragyan Ojha has played 24 tests and all in sub-continent. But Dhoni somehow forgets Ojha when it comes to playing tests outside subcontinent. Ojha certainly deserves a chance.

    The thing here is Dhoni is doing nothing to provide India a long term spinner who can be a match winner. Having a match winning spinner is the need of the hour for India.

  • Srinivasulu on February 23, 2014, 5:27 GMT

    I think, with all respect, Ian lost his mind. He always remember a team worst patch to comment on captain. He is praising AUS captain now. But I suppose he forgot that this same captain was present when AUS lost to Same England team just few months ago and the margin was 3-1! India performance was not that bad in New Zealand tests. We had first test under control when almost 4 decisions were against Batsmen while chasing. Result lost by 40 odd runs. In second test, it was a different issue. We were able to all out a team under 250 first time. This is good point. But what were anyone supposed to expect from home team. The resistance showed by home team is a good. Good courage showed and result is draw but not lost test for India. The result is better than AUS losing good controlled test to INDIA in 2001 in KOLKATA. Will he criticize STEVE for that loss? Will he do same comment on Clarke if he goes on to loose test series in SA?

  • Uday on February 22, 2014, 17:06 GMT

    For those who did not notice, Nathan Lyon just took 5 wickets in a first innings of a test in SA. Compare that with the whining we hear about how Ashwin & Jadeja found it tough to get turn and wickets in SA. I agree with Ganguly views that Ojha must be in a test XI. I hate to compare across eras but I can bet that Bedi, Prasanna & Chandra or Venkat would have not allowed SA or NZ to get more than 250 in their 2nd innings. Yes, they were not good fielders or batsmen but they did their main job - taking wickets. I feel that the ODI influence is skewing selection towards better fielders. I would rather give up 20 runs in the field to get a wicket or two. Patil & company need to sit back and think hard!

  • Dummy4 on February 22, 2014, 8:05 GMT

    I fail to understand why there is all this talk about lost chances and defensive captain. The way I see it, in overseas tests, India's bowling attack has rarely been consistent across two innings of a test match and probably not at all across a full series. What India really needs is a decent wicket taking attacking spinner, not the part timers Jadeja and Ashwin, if they really want to convert the good positions in overseas test into winning matches.

  • imran on February 22, 2014, 6:52 GMT

    poor article... the bottomline is that the #2 ranked indian side failed to win a single game against the #8 ranked NZ....n they havent won a single overseas match in the last 3 yrs.....but still after reading this article it seems that indians are quite happy with their "positives"

  • Dummy4 on February 21, 2014, 12:45 GMT

    Firstly Team India should take steps without any hesitation to pick or omit players based on their current form. For example Pandy should have been included in the place of Jadeja as the former proved his worth in the two day match. Knowing fully well Zakir Khan's age and his form, why should we pick up him. With him we lost and with any younger guy let us lface the defeat and atleast the young new comer would gain some good experience or might be a match winner.

  • Shailesh on February 20, 2014, 19:48 GMT

    Dhoni's captaincy has been quite mediocre and has cost us vital overseas wins going back to SA in 2010. It is quite apparent that he not only lacks imagination but also the killer instinct to snuff out the opposition when they are down. Suffice it to say that a certain Michael Clarke would have cashed in on these opportunities - with the same set of resources mind you! The only concession I am willing to give Dhoni is that the bowlers and batsmen have been culpable too. The brand of unprofessional cricket on display not only makes me angry, it leaves me disgusted. In Auckland, runs were gifted away frivolously in both NZ innings - even though NZ folded for 105, with some more tight cricket, that should have around 75-80. If Jadeja is a proper batsman, why cant he bat like one? In both innings, India would have been better served if he had applied himself than taking the high risk approach. A few more runs by the tail in the 1st dig and runs saved - the outcome could have been different

  • Navneeth on February 20, 2014, 15:40 GMT

    Need Pankaj Singh in the team. He has the accuracy...he has decent pace consistent @ 132-134. Has taken truckloads of wickets on dead pitches in Ranji Circuit...what more does that guy need to do to get selected

  • Amit on February 20, 2014, 14:13 GMT

    Agree with you there mate... the second spell alone is challenging enough in low temperatures or when even 1% less fit. The second new ball can be a hard act to conjure up at that age. 51 overs is unheard of. Quite simply - its 5 ODIs in less than 3 days?

    The other positives remain. I am not the biggest ZK fan but he can't be faulted for commitment after 51overs. This has gone similar to the Ashes in England. Series lost in key moments. One move here or there and it would have been quite a different story.

  • Dummy on February 20, 2014, 9:54 GMT

    You forget a few things in your one sided view, what about Kholi's century when the umpire missed the caught behind. India should have been in serious trouble at 4 down if it wasn't for the umpire. The Indian team overall got more umpire help than the NZ team, won every toss and still lost everything despite having the pick of conditions. The Indian tram was an abject failure in all forms and no one sided argument will convince the masses of what they saw.

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