ICL: Indian Cricket League

India’s chance to fix the blips


Surely it was not planned this way? It still is a nice little coincidence, though, that India should arrive in New Zealand on the day they won their first Test outside India , on February 20, 1968 … in New Zealand. They have only managed three more Test wins in New Zealand in the 41 years since - two on that same historic tour in 1967-68 - but India return to these shores better placed, in every other way, than the home side.

India are the stronger team on paper. They haven’t been subtle in talking up their ambitions to be No. 1 and, occupying the third spot in both Tests and ODIs, they have a shot at gaining higher ground. The next 50 days of India’s tour of New Zealand will both test and answer India’s aspirations to reach the top. The ratings and rankings and the wins in England, West Indies and Australia over the last few years will amount to little if India repeat a sad trend that started in 1981 - that of no Test or ODI series win in New Zealand.

Is it a great aberration of our times that India haven’t won in New Zealand for so long? That Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Harbhajan Singh haven’t won a Test here? That the likes of Anil Kumble and Sourav Ganguly retired without that success on their CVs? The next 50 days will be a good time for Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s team to answer that.

What is clearly an aberration is that, between them, five of the six Indians to have played in New Zealand only tally 11 Tests here. The sixth, Sachin Tendulkar, has played eight, and scored only one century. Of the 72 Tests that Dravid has played abroad - and he hasn’t missed many in his 13-year career - only four have come in New Zealand. It is this paucity of New Zealand tours that makes it such a test for India.

On India’s last trip - two World Cups have passed since then - Stephen Fleming wondered aloud whether their star batsmen deserved the cult status they enjoyed. The kind of scores India managed did merit such a doubt. But ask anybody around - Indian, New Zealander - and they will tell you that the previous tour was an aberration.

Dravid recently told Cricinfo that everything went wrong on that tour - the timing, the weather, and the pitches. What Dravid can’t explain, though, is what went wrong on the tour before that, in 1998. And the one before that. To focus only on the 2002-03 tour will be to take credit away from New Zealand, who have been an efficient team at home, and have competed well in India too. They drew their last series in India, and came close to winning the Mohali Test on their previous tour. In bilateral contests of late (a relative term given the infrequency of exchanges), New Zealand have had the upper hand, not necessarily playing with the stronger side.

Yet quietly India will feel confident. They know they have been on a roll in recent times. They know that in Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma they have a new-ball pairing to make any home side think twice before dishing out green tracks. But they also have history lined up against them.

This is once again a contest between an Indian team promising a lot and a New Zealand team that knows their home conditions well, a side who don’t have the best quality possible but are fully capable of drawing the opposition to their level. Ask Australia, who barely escaped with a drawn home ODI series.

That this is not being seen as a grudge series after 2002-03, that the verbal disintegration hasn’t already started, speaks of the nature of the contest. New Zealand v India has never blown up into a fierce rivalry. The Test series have been short - the last two comprised just two matches, a treatment India reserve for Bangladesh and Zimbabwe - and there are few memorable and close contests that come to mind. Neither have there been much mind games, and certainly not the “they were defensive” cry that comes out of the Indian camp every time they see an Australian.

The one obvious reason for the lack of the extra needle in these contests is that India have been miserable in New Zealand, and while New Zealand have fought well in India they haven’t threatened to win a series. Also New Zealanders are not a big commercial draw in India (Harbhajan against Daniel Vettori is not half as hot as Harbhajan against Andrew Symonds). To stretch it a bit, as cricket historian and writer Ramachandra Guha once mentioned, India can afford to be condescending towards New Zealand, much in the way England and Australia used to be towards India. After all India’s first series victory (1955-56 at home), and the first overseas Test and series wins (1967-68) came against New Zealand.

Which brings us to February 20, 2009. Forty-one years after their first Test win abroad, India can’t afford to take New Zealand lightly. If 2002-03 was indeed an aberration, some spice was added today in the form of a chilly breeze in Christchurch to welcome India. New Zealand will not mind that all the attention, as in 2002-03, will be on India. They have made a living out of laying low and springing surprises.

In five days India will start a tour that will define how much they have really progressed after their World Cup debacle in 2007. And while there are no tour games, they will kick off this trip with two Twenty20 fixtures - the format in which they are world champions. New Zealand, again, won’t grudge them that attention.

Source:Cricket News

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, February 24th, 2009 and is filed under General, Cricket.

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