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Match Analysis

A bowler for each batsman - how New Zealand plotted Virat Kohli & Co's downfall

Four quicks in Wellington and five in Christchurch, and each brought something different to the table

Tim Southee is pumped after sending Virat Kohli back  •  Getty Images

Tim Southee is pumped after sending Virat Kohli back  •  Getty Images

Tim Southee has dismissed Virat Kohli more often than anyone else in all international cricket. It's only natural, then, that New Zealand like to bring Southee on whenever Kohli comes to the crease. They kept doing this right through their just-concluded Test series against India.
Southee didn't get to bowl to Kohli during India's first innings in Wellington, where he only lasted seven balls, and didn't face anyone apart from Kyle Jamieson. In the second innings, however, Southee came on as soon as Kohli walked in. Trent Boult had bowled Cheteshwar Pujara with the last ball before tea, and Southee had the ball as soon as the break ended, with Kohli now at the crease.
In the first innings in Christchurch, Kohli came in at the fall of Prithvi Shaw's wicket, caught at second slip off Jamieson. Neil Wagner had just been introduced in the over before the wicket, but as soon as Kohli arrived, New Zealand hooked Wagner off and put Southee back on from his end.
In the second innings, Kohli made his earliest entrance of the series, in only the ninth over of India's innings. This time he had to face Southee first up by default.
Southee v Kohli - 32 balls, 16 runs, one dismissal, if you're wondering - wasn't the only such match-up of the series. Kohli faced more balls from Jamieson (45) than from any other bowler, even Southee, and almost every time, Jamieson tried doing to Kohli exactly what he did to pick up his wicket the first time they met: push him back with the short ball, and mix that up with fullish, wide balls to try and invite the drive away from the body.
Kohli only faced eight balls from Boult through the whole series, and while this was partly because he was never at the crease long enough to face a great variety of bowlers, it was also because New Zealand were diligent about who they matched up against who. Southee bowled more balls to Ajinkya Rahane (81) than to anyone else, but didn't bowl a whole lot, comparatively, to Pujara or Hanuma Vihari. Those two instead faced more balls from Boult and Jamieson. Boult to Pujara (99 balls) was the most frequent match-up, and he also bowled the bulk of deliveries faced by the left-handed Rishabh Pant and Ravindra Jadeja.
All over the world, the top teams have a great depth of bowling resources for their own conditions, but not necessarily for conditions elsewhere. India are probably better stocked for away conditions than many other teams, but sometimes even that isn't enough
New Zealand coach Gary Stead referenced these match-ups when asked about his team's depth of seam-bowling resources.
"Well, we play with slightly different make-ups in the way we put our teams together as well," Stead said. "India often only have the three seamers and a spinner, whereas we tend to always play the allrounder, and usually a spinner, like we did in the first Test, but in this one we decided to go with the five seamers, which can be sometimes difficult to manage, but I thought [Kane Williamson] captained very well, and actually really worked on the match-ups that we had with people, and who we wanted to bowl to them early, which I think was a really important factor."
You can't always match up bowlers and batsmen this way in Test cricket. India certainly couldn't, at any point in this series. They only had three seamers in both Tests, and the absence of Ishant Sharma in the second Test forced them to stretch Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah during the first innings, with Umesh Yadav not trusted with as many overs as Sharma might have been in his place.
New Zealand had four seamers in the first Test, and five in the second, and were able to rotate them well, ensuring they were all reasonably fresh at the start of their spells. Each of them also brought something different to the table. It's hard to find an all-seam attack with as much variety as New Zealand's in Christchurch - the new-ball swing of Southee, the height and bounce of Jamieson, the metronomic, medium-paced nibble of Colin de Grandhomme, and two left-arm quicks of hugely different methods in Boult and Wagner. Five bowlers of diverse skills, but all of them had one thing in common: the ability to bowl patiently and accurately, and stick to a plan.
This, combined with the conscious effort to match up bowlers and batsmen, was a possible reason for India's batsmen getting out in roughly the same fashion more than once. Mayank Agarwal was twice lbw to Boult in Christchurch, by deliveries that straightened into him after angling across from left-arm over. Pujara was bowled by Boult twice in the series from left-arm around. Kohli was lbw to almost identical deliveries in both innings - both threatened to swing away, and both nipped back in off the surface - except one was bowled by Southee and the other by de Grandhomme.
A New Zealand attack of this nature might not have been anywhere near as effective on the subcontinent, say, or even on a typical Australian pitch where there's pace and bounce but not a whole lot of seam movement. But the bowlers they picked were exactly what they needed for the surfaces they found in Wellington and Christchurch.
New Zealand's attack, as a result, built relentless pressure on India's batsmen, which forced them to try and bat differently, especially against the short ball. India were prepared for the challenge - even someone with as little experience as Shubman Gill, before the Test series, spoke about the need for the batsmen to deny New Zealand wickets with the short ball - but out in the middle, they found themselves unable to counter it in a coherent way. Their batsmen, Kohli apart, tried to answer New Zealand's short-ball waiting game with a patient, risk-minimising approach in Wellington, but by the time they came to Christchurch, they changed tack and looked to take on the short ball with the hook and the pull: they didn't fully embrace either approach, and as a consequence their execution went awry.
India's fast bowlers came to this tour with a proud record all over the world in the last two-and-a-bit years. But their Test series went much like their experience on the 2018 England tour, where they bowled well but didn't match the home side's attack for depth and familiarity with conditions. Here, they bowled well in patches - especially on day two in Christchurch, where the pitch was right up the alley of Bumrah and Shami, offering both pace and seam movement - but there were always phases where New Zealand pulled away, as was invariably the case when their lower order batted.
The lower-order contributions of Jamieson in this series, in that sense, were quite similar to those of Sam Curran during India's 2018 tour against England. Or of Jayant Yadav when England came to India in 2016-17. Jamieson seems to possess a level of skill that could make him an exception to the rule, but generally, there's a reason why lower-order batsmen from home teams do better than lower-order batsmen from away teams. They are lower-order batsmen, and their techniques don't usually have the durability to survive unfamiliar tests. And a deeper attack, with fresher bowlers - which is also usually the prerogative of home teams - tends to knock over lower orders more quickly.
And that's the nub of it: home advantage. All over the world, the top teams have a great depth of bowling resources for their own conditions, but not necessarily for conditions elsewhere. India are probably better stocked for away conditions than many other teams, but sometimes even that isn't enough.

Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo