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Tour and tournament reports

India vs New Zealand in 2021-22

A review of India vs New Zealand in 2021-22

Anand Vasu
Ajaz Patel roars after picking up his tenth wicket  •  BCCI

Ajaz Patel roars after picking up his tenth wicket  •  BCCI

Twenty20 internationals (3): India 3, New Zealand 0
Test matches (2): India 1 (16pts), New Zealand 0 (4pts)
A meeting of the two top-ranked Test teams should have been the toast of the cricket world. Sadly, it was nothing of the sort. New Zealand flew to India straight after the T20 World Cup, and crammed in three more T20s before two Tests, the minimum qualification for the ICC's World Test Championship. In June, the same sides contested the final of the first edition of the WTC, when New Zealand came out on top in Southampton. But priorities seemed to have changed.
Several Indian players skipped this series, as a tour of South Africa was looming: Virat Kohli missed the T20s and the First Test, while Jasprit Bumrah, Rishabh Pant and Rohit Sharma were also given a breather. New Zealand rested Trent Boult, reasoning that the pitches would not be to his liking, while Devon Conway was absent after breaking a finger in the T20 World Cup semi-final. Kane Williamson sat out the T20s, then was ruled out of the Second Test with a recurrence of an elbow injury.
India atoned for recent defeats by New Zealand by winning all three T20s with something to spare. They also won the Test series, though the most striking performance came from New Zealand's slow left-armer Ajaz Patel, who took all ten wickets for 119 in the first innings in Mumbai, the city of his birth 33 years previously, and which his family had left for Auckland when he was 16. It put him alongside Jim Laker and Anil Kumble in the Test pantheon, if not quite in terms of impact: Laker, who finished with 19 at Old Trafford in 1956, was leading a rout, and Kumble also hastened his side to victory, at Delhi in 1998-99.
At the Wankhede, Ajaz plugged away from one end, while none of his colleagues looked like taking a wicket at the other. In a nice touch by the broadcasters, he was interviewed by India's off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin, who finished the match with eight wickets, and presented Ajaz with a shirt signed by the Indian team. "I was trying to be on the money every ball, because as soon as I miss, you guys would be on top," Ajaz told him. "So it has been a bit of a mind game. It was about trusting what you are doing is the right thing."
Overall, though, it seemed as if New Zealand's hectic schedule had caught up with them. Always a proud side, they scrapped hard to draw the First Test at Kanpur but, with Williamson joining Conway on the injured list, they never looked like saving the Second.
For India, the Tests again suggested a need for fresh blood in the middle order. Over the previous two years, Cheteshwar Pujara had averaged 27, Ajinkya Rahane 24, and even Kohli only 26. But, just as Sachin Tendulkar was undroppable, so is Kohli, and as long as he continued to underperform - he had still not scored an international century since November 2019 - it was difficult to leave out those around him. Meanwhile, the bench flexed their muscles: Shreyas Iyer began his career with 105 and 65 in the First Test, and Mayank Agarwal grabbed his chance with 150 and 62 in the Second.
Indian pitches continued to be confounding. They sometimes turn from the start, which in the past they rarely had; but even when they do not, teams seem to have trouble posting tall first-innings scores. India kicked off the Tests with 345 and 325, both below par, although New Zealand's collapse for 62 - the lowest in any Test in India - meant the hosts waltzed home in the Second Test, despite Patel's heroics.