Caught between their cricketing and commercial interests, the supermodels of Indian cricket must have been under the illusion that all they had to do was strut their stuff and the Wellington Test would be theirs. There was an obvious lack of effort from the visiting batsmen who seemed to be only going through their motions. Probably it was this apathy that also led to them showing a complete lack of emotion after their abject performance.
My mind goes back some 34 years to another Test match at Wellington - the third match of a four-Test series. India had won the first Test at Dunedin, which incidentally was also its first-ever Test match win abroad. New Zealand bounced back well to take the second at Christchurch. When the two teams came to Wellington for the allimportant third Test, the conditions were similar to those which greeted Ganguly's men in the recent Test; it was cold and windy, and the pitch had a lot of grass on it. But the then Indian team showed the will to fight it out and win the match. Our eight-wicket win paved the way for us winning the series 3-1.
I reckon the New Zealand team then was far superior when compared to their present line-up, especially when it came to the batting. I distinctly remember the right-handed opening batsman Graham Dowling. If my memory serves me right, he scored 143 in the first Test at Dunedin and then piled on 230-odd runs in the second Test at Christchurch. The Kiwi batsmen then were good at playing the sweep shot, a much-favoured form of play against our spin bowling attack which included the likes of Bishan Singh Bedi, Bapu Nadkarni and yours truly.
At the Wellington Test that followed, after New Zealand had decided to bat first, yours truly destroyed their batting with a five-wicket haul. And in the second innings it was Bapu Nadkarni who picked six wickets, getting the ball to turn viciously, while I finished with three.
The nature of the track was very much the same after 34 years. Sourav Ganguly's men found out like we had all those years ago that the Basin Reserve track in Wellington has always had a spongy feel to it which helps the seam bowlers.
If it helps the seam bowlers, it would also definitely help good spin bowlers. If I am correct, Shane Warne has been a very successful bowler in New Zealand. The simple trick is that the bowler has to give the ball a great deal of tweak. It is the ability to turn the ball on any surface that matters in the end.
Spin was our strength all those years ago and it continues to be our strength now too. In the circumstances, I think the current team management got the game plan completely wrong. And the lion share of the blame rests with the coach John Wright.
As a former New Zealand captain, Wright would have been the best person to guide the Indian batsmen about the conditions. But somehow he does not seem to have succeeded in achieving this. At no point did the Indians seem like a team that had prepared for this game. The batting, in particular, with the exception of Dravid in the first innings, was pathetic. Even Tendulkar's effort in the second innings was not convincing.
Make no mistake; the Indian team in 1968 did not have a foreign coach. It did not have the services of a physiotherapist and a trainer. Neither did it have a computer analyst. The team did not have the kind of facilities the boys have today. But the then captain Pataudi, and the rest of the team had the will to win. Surely the ball seamed and bounced, but fortunately for us, there was one batsman, Ajit Wadekar, who stood like a rock and scored the bulk of the runs. The debutant made a classy 143, which played its part in helping the spinners to destroy the New Zealand batting.
There was no one to play a similar role this time around. After the abject surrender, Wright was quoted in newspapers as saying that the batsmen should have been judicious in their shot selection. Well, all I have got to say to this is that most of the top Indian batsmen did not get out playing shots, they were completely undone by the bounce and movement - and played nothing shots. As for his observation that "we've got some wonderful batsmen. When they get in, they express themselves and they're good to watch", well, all a Indian supporter wants is for this Indian team to be good enough to win, even if they aren't necessarily good to watch.
Stephen Fleming mentioned after the thumping win that his team had a clear game plan, and that it worked out to perfection. It is evident that Wright and Ganguly, in contrast, did not put in much thought into the first Test.
After the walloping at Wellington, I, for one, can't see this Indian team recover and do well at Hamilton just by making a few changes to the bowling line-up. What instead has to be done is that the batsmen will have to be told to show some more courage and fight it out rather than setting their stall to look good against Kiwi bowlers.
It will also be prudent for Wright to remember the different cultural backgrounds the Indian players come from. In general the Indians are soft, much unlike the Australians or Kiwis. So a tough schoolmaster approach or a hands-free professional approach would not do any good to the team when the chips are down. At the end of the day, the coach is responsible for how well the team prepares and performs. Wright, then, must do everything in his powers to ensure that another demoralising loss at Hamilton is avoided.