A descent into darkness

India’s defeat in the ODI series provides the New Zealand media the opportunity to have a crack at the visiting team. Inter-board politics (the BCCI has been indulging in power play along with England and Australia) has not gone down well with the press here. By S. Dinakar.

From the peace of Hamilton, the cricket entourage travels to Auckland, New Zealand’s commercial hub. The city has a heartbeat and a soul. New Zealand’s population is around five million, and almost two million live in Auckland, a city of cultural diversity.

There is also a sense of adventure about Auckland. The brave ones can indulge in bungee jumping from the towering Sky City at the City Center.

The Indians have been on a different kind of freefall in the ODI series. Down 0-2, they desperately seek to reverse the trend at Eden Park. There is considerable buzz in the city about the match. Spectators swarm the arena.

Inside the stadium, you see Indian faces everywhere. The official count for the game is just over 28,000 and well over half of them are of Indian origin.

The Indian fans make a lot more noise than the Kiwis. Every wicket that the Indians take and every stroke that they play is cheered. In contrast, the applause for the Kiwis is muted. It is a rather bizarre scenario really.

Later, when asked about the crowd rooting for India, Ravichandran Ashwin says, “The Indian supporters are there everywhere. They are present in every part of the world.”

The off-spinner elaborates on the point: “In the Champion’s Trophy final in England last year, there were more Indian supporters than the English.”

The Indian aficionados at the Eden Park have something to take home on this night of swirling emotions. A rampant Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja force a tie for India when defeat seems imminent. The finish is pulse pounding. At the end of it all, Jadeja grows in stature.

Meanwhile, the Indian legend, Sunil Gavaskar, hardly misses an opportunity to have a conversation with the media during the breaks. This time the talk centres on old-fashioned hostile fast bowling by Mitchell Johnson that destroys England in the Ashes.

“You see, some Aussies made such a big fuss about Australia playing the ODI series in India ahead of the Ashes,” says Gavaskar. He then makes his point: “But it was in the ODI series that Johnson found his rhythm. He ran in well and delivered some very good short-pitched ones.

“This was very helpful in preparing him. Had he not played in India, I doubt whether he would have bowled with such consistency and fire in the Ashes,” the former India opener and skipper says.

The Indians are buoyed by the tie. The result has provided them a lifeline, kept them in the series. Either of the teams could have won or lost the cliff-hanger. As the dust settles, both India and New Zealand are relieved.

The modern-day scheduling is hard on the mind and body. After the emotionally draining tussle in Auckland, the teams travel to Hamilton the following morning.

It is a rainy day with icy winds in Hamilton, but sunshine is forecast on match day. Come the big game at Seddon Park and India descends into darkness. The series is lost.

The verdict leaves skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni an angry man. “The bowlers did not use their brains,” he fumes.

The mood in the Kiwi camp is upbeat. Having nailed the series, there are several happy faces in the New Zealand team at the Hamilton airport the next morning.

Yours truly sits next to Kiwi off-spinner Nathan McCullum on the flight to Wellington. The New Zealander is travelling with his wife and 16-month old child. An affable cricketer, Nathan quickly opens up. He talks of the challenges of being an off-spinner in a country where most of the surfaces are seamer-friendly. Nathan also talks of the upcoming Indian Premier League auction where he believes Corey Anderson will be in great demand. “He is a wonderful talent and a very focussed cricketer,” he says.

Meanwhile, India’s defeat in the ODI series provides the New Zealand media the opportunity to have a crack at the visiting team. Inter-board politics (the BCCI has been indulging in power play along with England and Australia) has not gone down well with the press here.

“Cricket’s bully boys beaten,” screams a headline in one of the local dailies.

Wellington, a city of wind, gardens and beautifully sculpted buildings, is the tour’s next stop. The winds are largely absent this time round; the sun is out and the locals are smiling from ear to ear. “You know the weather in Wellington is very fickle. When the sun shines, you got to enjoy it,” one of them says. Wellington has its own identity. A walk in the city’s world famous botanical gardens does soothe one’s senses. So does the visit to the Basin Reserve, a venue where tradition is valued.

In the pavilion building, the entire history of New Zealand cricket is chronicled. Images from the past stare at you. Everything here has been done so tastefully.

The fifth ODI is, however, played at the Westpac Stadium, a modern facility. The familiar script continues as India slumps to yet another defeat.

As the floodlights sparkle in the night sky, the victorious New Zealanders celebrate together. The television cameras whirr and the flashbulbs click.