What went wrong with Kohli's 'world-beaters' in New Zealand?

The New Zealand tour completed a cycle of SENA campaigns for India, beginning with the tour of South Africa 2017-18. 

New Zealand captain Kane Williamson has a chat with India skipper Virat Kohli after New Zealand won the Test series.

New Zealand captain Kane Williamson has a chat with India skipper Virat Kohli after New Zealand won the Test series.   -  AFP

SENA, the acronym that takes Indian team out of its comfort zone in Test cricket, stands for South Africa, England, New Zealand and Australia. These countries represent the toughest challenge for the Indian teams (batsmen in particular).

The New Zealand tour completed a cycle of SENA campaigns for India, beginning with the tour of South Africa 2017-18. 

Since then, India has toured England, Australia and New Zealand for the Test series. And what’s the score? It’s 1-3 against Virat Kohli and his men.

For a team ranked No. 1 in Tests, this is an unsatisfactory record. Kohli’s team likes to believe it is one of the greatest sides in world cricket and the best Indian team ever. That’s far from the truth.

Clive Lloyd’s bunch of conquerors steamrolled opposition away from home. Then Steve Waugh’s men were formidable on foreign soil.

And let’s not forget Bradman’s Invincibles. This Indian team is not even close to those sides.

While it’s true that India competed hard in South Africa it eventually went down 1-2. India lost critical moments in the first two Tests and that hurt the side.

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Then, India travelled to England. It was trounced 1-4 in the Test series but the scoreline did not reflect the intensity of the contests. India was found wanting in end-game skills.

Then arrived India’s hour of glory when the side won its first ever Test series - the verdict was 2-1 - in Australia last season. Steve Smith and David Warner were missing from the Aussie line-up. But you cannot hold that against the Indians.

In New Zealand, though, India, swept aside 0-2, did not even put up a fight. In conditions where the ball swung, seamed and bounced, the Indian batting, lacking footwork, unsure of the off-stump, and undone by short-pitched bowling, stood totally exposed. 

The quality of the New Zealand bowling was high. The response from the Indian batsmen was poor, and, at times, pathetic. 

And the skipper himself made 38 runs from four innings at 9.50. Kohli was not still at the crease as he awaited the ball - here you need to wait for the ball to come to you, play it late - and was dragging his front foot across. 

Neither could the Indian skipper pick the direction of the swing. When the ball zipped, Kohli, with his pad thrust forward, was in serious trouble.

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The Indian batsmen would be embarrassed in the manner they got out to short-pitched deliveries. They did not get into good positions and were unsure whether to essay the hook or the pull or leave the lifters.

And they walked back to distressing dismissals; none more than Ajinkya Rahane’s hooking-into-the-stumps-act at the Hagley Oval.

New Zealand possessed a world class right-left pair in Tim Southee and Trent Boult and a rising star in Kyle Jamieson with his height, bounce, off-stump line and subtle movement. 

Against them, the Indian batsmen could not pace their innings. They were too slow against the accurate Kiwis at the Basin Reserve - the New Zealand seamers choked the batsmen before consuming them - and then decided to play the hook and the pull against almost every short ball at the Hagley Oval.

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The move fetched some runs but eventually backfired. At a critical point on day one, Pujara, fatally, attempted to pull a sharply climbing delivery from the off-stump.

That Mayank Agarwal’s 58 was the highest individual score for the Indians in the series tells the story. These are conditions where you need to be decisive whether going forward or back. The Indians were often caught at the crease.

As for bowling, the Indian pacemen, save Ishant Sharma, bowled the wrong length in the first Test. Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami found some rhythm and control in the second Test but then the batsmen let them down.

This Indian team is no world-beater in Tests. Ignore the hype merchants.

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