How to tackle New Zealand at home

In New Zealand, cricket has a complex relationship with nature. Foreign teams fail to understand its dynamics and stumble in the process.

Trent Boult celebrates the dismissal of Ajinkya Rahane at the Basin Reserve in Wellington on Monday.   -  AP/PTI

In New Zealand, cricket has a complex relationship with nature. Foreign teams fail to understand its dynamics and stumble in the process.

You don’t have to look further than India’s capitulation in the first Test at the Basin Reserve. The side did not make use of the conditions like the New Zealanders did.

Take for instance the breeze factor. When the Southerly blows behind the back of the bowlers, the Kiwis know the ball would swing. So when the Southerly arrives, they pitch the ball up, get it to move around. The batsmen are lured into drives, and the swing either finds the edges or pierces the defence.

The Kiwis comprehend too that when the Northerly blows, it does not quite encourage swing. The Northerly is generally a rough wind and it often blows across the pitch.

The ball does not generally swing and even if it does, controlling the movement becomes a huge ask. So this was the period the Kiwis bounced at the Indians and there was reward for them too. They also operated cross seam to flummox the Indians.     

A dejected Virat Kohli leaves the field after being dismissed on day three of the first Test cricket match between New Zealand and India at the Basin Reserve in Wellington.

A dejected Virat Kohli leaves the field after being dismissed on day three of the first Test match between New Zealand and India at the Basin Reserve in Wellington.   -  AFP

 

Trent Boult and Tim Southee are masters in these conditions. They complement each other and this time the Kiwis had Kyle Jamieson’s height, he’s 6’8, off-stump line and bounce, to lend the attack more teeth.

The New Zealanders hunt as a pack, with the fielders working in tandem with the bowlers. They stifle the run-rate, have men in both catching and single saving positions, with just a couple hidden away in the deep.

Enter someone such as Colin de Grandhomme who can bowl over after over of clever and accurate medium-pace, at around 120kmph, not giving anything for the drive, the cut or the pull.

READ: Kohli’s message to Pujara & Co: Being cautious won't help us

And as Virat Kohli admitted, the New Zealand bowlers enter the minds of the batsmen to make them play the way they wanted them to, building up pressure all the time. Once, the batsmen did that, they fell into a defensive rut and the trap.

The Kiwis were essentially playing a mind game, using the conditions, choking up the runs, and making the inroads. That Mayank Agarwal’s 58 in the second innings was the highest individual score by the Indians tells the story. And Kolhi’s man fell short of 200 in both the innings.

Worse the Indian batsmen were poor in their judgment around off. When the ball was pitched up, they did not use their feet to get to the pitch of the sphere. They were caught at the crease.  

On surfaces such as the Basin Reserve - the pitch for the second Test at Christchurch is likely to be similar - a batsman, before entering the arena, has to be clear in his mind as to what shot he was going to play and what strokes he wasn’t.

Unless a batsman can control the hook, this is not a shot he should attempt. Big drives through covers are best avoided. Patience, even while staying positive with low risk strokeply, is the key to frustrating the Kiwi pacemen.

And when they decide to essay the bigger strokes, the batsmen have to hit with the wind, not against it. Here again nature tangoes with cricket in these parts.

The Kiwi shackles can be broken with technique and intelligent stroke-play, not by brash methods.

Of course, winning the toss here and bowling first has its advantages. The Indians were unlucky with the spin of the coin at the Basin Reserve but until they work on the key aspects of their cricket and understand the conditions better, they may not be able to cash in on bowling first.

India has some serious issues with its bowling as well, particularly its inability to get past the tail. More about that later.