Where the Kiwis' batting went wrong

The lack of patience and innings building skills — the exposure to Twenty20 format has played no small part in this — together with faulty or no footwork have been disastrous for many batting units in 'away' Test campaigns.

New Zealand's Ross Taylor goes for a wild sweep and is bowled by Ravichandran Ashwin in the third Test in Indore.   -  Vivek Bendre

Absence of footwork was pronounced in the Kiwi capitulation on Indian pitches. The surrender of its batsmen to spin in the recently concluded three-Test series was shocking.

Nothing symbolised the self-destructive mind-set of the New Zealanders more than the crude slog that the experienced Ross Taylor employed to an off-spinner from R. Ashwin in Indore.

The mental meltdown, stemming from a lack of belief, seemed a direct consequence of flawed technique with lack of effective feet movement at the heart of it.

New Zealand’s batting collapses on surfaces offering encouragement to spinners also mirrored the declining batting standards in world cricket.

Batsmen are increasingly struggling away from home, whether countering swing, seam and lift or turn and bounce.

There may be individual exceptions but line-ups, as a whole, have been largely disappointing on campaigns abroad.

The lack of patience and innings building skills — the exposure to Twenty20 format has played no small part in this — together with faulty or no footwork have been disastrous for many batting units in 'away' Test campaigns.

On surfaces that offer turn, the batsmen, depending on length, have to go right forward to smother the spin, or get right back for a whole range of options. The nimble-footed batsmen, if the ball is flighted, dance down and take the spinners on sure-footedly to hit them off their comfort zone.

Instead, the Kiwi batsmen — neither forward nor back — set themselves up for a variety of dismissals.

The heavy willows that facilitate batting of the stand-and-deliver variety have had a detrimental effect on footwork. A lot of batting is bottom-handed due to the weight of bats — this is often reflected in the bent back-leg when the ball is struck. There have been times when balance, such a crucial element in batting, has been missing because of the uneven distribution of body weight.

New Zealand skipper Kane Williamson was technically well-equipped to survive in the Indian conditions. But then, he got a probing one from Ashwin in the first Test — the delivery pitched on a good length and spun in sharply from outside off — and ran into fitness concerns subsequently to lose batting rhythm.

If they were not able to pick Ashwin from the hand — the off-spinner does have variety — the New Zealand batsmen could have gone right back, allowed the ball to turn and played the ball late. Instead they perished, playing fatal strokes.

When Australia visited India in 2004 — a look at that line-up would reveal how much the batting standards have gone down in recent times — the gifted Damien Martyn first blunted and then conquered Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh with some sensational back-foot play at Chepauk.

Martyn took an off-stump guard, played back-and-back, and met the ball late. He not only gave himself extra time to play the turning ball but also gradually forced the Indian spinners to alter their length. The Aussie won the battle with a solid game-plan and the technical expertise to pull it off.

Back-foot play, however, has been a casualty of the recent batting methods with some erroneous trigger movements playing no small part in it. The cut, the pull, and the glide can be so effective against spin. So are the back-foot defence and the ability to leave the ball.

When England visited India in 2012, the left-handed Alistair Cook displayed exemplary footwork, going right back or venturing forward with purpose. During his series-deciding 186 in Mumbai, the mercurial Kevin Pietersen sashayed down to spinners, and, when they consequently pitched short, rocked back to cut and pull them ruthlessly. Spinners were not allowed to settle down. Rather Pietersen dominated them.

The sweep is not a great advertisement for footwork but it can be employed judiciously to knock the spinners off their length. No one used this attacking option better than the big Aussie Mathew Hayden during that dramatic 2001 series in India.

Test cricket was a lot more combative then, though.

Different situations demand different tactics but the Kiwis seemed bereft of ideas in the sub-continental conundrum.

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