McCullum sets unlikely example of graft and grit
Brendon McCullum hasn't been in form. That statement might be construed as lunacy, looking at the scorecards and his two consecutive Man-of-the-Match performances, but he hasn't been in form - and he's admitted as much. But, crucially, he has hung in.
As Daniel Vettori, his captain, said, McCullum is not used to not looking a million dollars. He has struggled, looked ungainly at times, but he's put a high price on his wicket and seen his team through. It's something that doesn't come naturally to him.
The Indian batsmen, on the other hand, have all looked in good form. They have dazzled for brief bits but not one has made sure he bats through an innings to help put up challenging totals for India. That has been the difference between the two teams so far - McCullum and, for example, Virender Sehwag.
There is no doubt Sehwag has played his natural game, and that is how he should play, but he will be disappointed. And to say this is the only way he knows how to will be a discredit to Sehwag's cricketing acumen. What will disappoint him more, perhaps, is that India twice failed to capitalise on his quick starts. India will now want to look forward, to the one-day series where more McCullum-like endurance will be called for. The subtle adjustments needed in New Zealand conditions will become more important as the format of the game lengthens. "We are confident about each and every game," Mahendra Singh Dhoni said. "Even if we had won the last game, it wouldn't have made a difference. We have to keep repeating good work in every game of cricket."
Over the past week, Dhoni has given a good insight into how the Indian team has batted so far in New Zealand. He said the batsmen have been hitting almost everything off the middle of the bat in the nets, and almost everything in the matches. So it is a question of making the mental adjustments. Dhoni said he would leave it to the batsmen to assess a situation and bat accordingly.
One man good at that is Sachin Tendulkar, who will return to the team having sat out of Twenty20s. "It's not only his batting and his bowling," Dhoni said of Tendulkar's influence. "It's the contribution he can make to the side with his experience. He changes the dressing-room atmosphere completely. In the IPL we played against the Mumbai Indians, and it plays on your mind that Sachin is there in the opposition. [It's] The amount of ideas he has."
While Tendulkar will walk into the team, there will be a question mark once again over Irfan Pathan's inclusion. He had a cruel Twenty20 match in Wellington, where he conceded 25 runs in his first two overs, then brought India back into the game with two wickets in two balls, only to give away nine runs in the last three balls. As bowlers, it might be fair to say Praveen Kumar and Munaf Patel have been in better form. But Irfan's batting strength creates the doubt, more so given the two top-order collapses in the Twenty20 series.
New Zealand, though, have no such combination doubts, with Kyle Mills making a comeback. In fact, Vettori said this has been the happiest situation for them going into a match, for a long time. "It's the most exciting bit, the fact that some pretty good players have been left out. Before we went to Australia, it was tough to pick a 14. It's tough to sit down and choose whom to leave out, but it's a good situation for a captain to be in."
A lot of blame for what happened on India's last tour was put on the pitches and conditions. This was unfair to New Zealand, who played good cricket and saw the credit being taken away. On this tour the conditions have been good, as even Dhoni accepted, but it's New Zealand who have capitalised on them so far.
India are yet to panic and New Zealand yet to celebrate. It is not yet clear whether the 2-0 Twenty20 win for the hosts was an upset or an expected result. New Zealand have been calling India the most destructive team, India have responded by continuing their dismal run in the country.
Did India under-estimate New Zealand (when playing here, you do that at your own risk) by over-reaching twice or did the Indian batsmen fail to make adjustments to slower pitches and cold conditions? It's a good time to start the ODI series for Twenty20 doesn't render itself to much analysis and hence can't answer these questions.
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo