There was a time in world cricket when losing to lowly placed New Zealand was considered sacrilege. Those were the days when Zimbabwe, Bangladesh and even Sri Lanka did not play Test matches. In fact India and New Zealand were almost always fighting for the wooden spoon.
Not much has changed today for the New Zealanders in terms of their world ranking, which still stands at eighth best in the world, but India is well on the way towards becoming the numero uno team in all forms of the game!
Notwithstanding the Indian team’s inability to force a win in the third Test at the Basin Reserve in Wellington, in match that they dominated entirely, their 1-0 win over the hapless Kiwis who were playing on home turf, has clearly underlined India’s potential to be the world’s number one team in the near future.
The Test series was so hopelessly one-sided that most pundits had predicted a 3-0 win after India’s dashing performance at Hamilton in the first encounter. Apart from three days of ascendancy at Napier in the second Test, the Kiwis looked all at sea against the marauding Indians.
Gautam Gambhir showed throughout the series that India has unearthed a rare talent in him, and that he has the ability to be the world’s very best opening batsman in all forms of the game. His marathon century at Napier to save the match followed by a brilliant 167 at Wellington underscored his amazing batting ability in different conditions and in any situation.
The old guard comprising of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman was in superb form too, and they collectively amassed almost a thousand sublime runs in the series. Tendulkar was close to his very best, and followed up his scintillating 163 in the third ODI with a magnificent 160 in the Hamilton Test to take India to their series- clinching victory. Throughout the series, he repeatedly stroked the ball to the fence off the awe-struck Kiwi bowlers with shots that were precise in their placement and truly resplendent in their glory. Dravid and Laxman were on top of their games too, with each excelling in his selected role. Laxman’s artistry resulted in outcomes that were like a painter’s masterpiece, while Dravid not only broke the world record for the most catches but also for the most century partnerships. A staggering performance by any standard!
MS Dhoni was looking more and more like a champion of champions by the end of the series. His wicket keeping was outstanding (he broke the record for most catches by an Indian keeper in an innings- six), his batting was solid and powerful, and his leadership aspiring. Harbhajan and Zaheer Khan displayed their wares with aplomb, to the obvious discomfort of the opponents. Harbhajan was in total control at Hamilton and also at Wellington, while Zaheer proved in the third Test that he is getting better and better as the years pass by.
For Virender Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh in batting as also for Ishant Sharma and Munaf Patel in bowling, it was not the best of times. While Yuvraj played well in at least two innings, Sehwag tried to over-dominate. Sharma and Patel lacked consistency and did not bowl to a plan except in a spell or two. Sourav Ganguly and Anil Kumble may have been missed by the Indians to an extent, but this Indian side does not let adversity come in its way. No way!
Jesse Ryder and Ross Taylor played a couple of astonishing innings each and even skipper Daniel Vettori and Brendon Mc Cullum scored centuries to bring some cheer to the Kiwis in a series which they were lucky to come out of with a 1-0 score line.
Daniel Vettori would feel himself to be extremely fortunate to have escaped with a draw at Wellington, with eight wickets down and only he with tail-ender Iain O’Brien standing in India’s way when the rain came. Next man in Chris Martin at number 11 had not scored a run since October in any of the 23 matches he had played before this one! It was only Martin’s lofted straight drive off Harbhajan Singh in the first innings that would have given Vettori a glimmer of hope! It did not help that Ishant Sharma dropped O’Brien at backward square leg off Sachin Tendulkar (who could there by have grabbed his third wicket of the innings and sealed the win!)
India’s dashing skipper Dhoni proved to be a little less enterprising at the Basin Reserve by delaying India’s declaration by at least an hour, and has rightly been advised by Martin Crowe through his web-column to watch out for weather reports in future!
All in all the Indians have provided sufficient evidence to indicate that they have the capacity to excel in world cricket with a team that has men who are ready to put in their best efforts in each and every situation. The IPL in South Africa beckons the Indians cricketers now and then the ICC World 20-20 tournament in England. Never is there a dull moment in international cricket!