A well charted Kiwi campaign

S. DINAKAR

The truimphant New Zealanders.-N. BALAJI

IT was a well laid trap, a chance that New Zealand had to take. The colour of the pitches was green and troubled times awaited India.

It was clear before the series, that had the two Tests been staged on batting tracks, the odds would have favoured India. New Zealand decided to play to its strengths.

If the matches were low-scoring, the Kiwis had a better chance. After all, in Shane Bond they had the most incisive fast bowler in both the sides, and in Darryl Tuffey, a paceman who knew the conditions like the back of his hand.

Darryl Tuffey, New Zealand's bowling hero of the series, castles India's new opener Parthiv Patel in the second innings in Hamilton.-N. BALAJI

India, with a vastly superior batting order could be beaten, but that could happen only when there was plenty of seam movement for the pacemen. In other words, the Indian batting would have to be ambushed.

In the end, New Zealand's two-nil victory exposed the hollowness of the so called Indian batting might. If the side has to be counted as among the top two batting line-ups the world, then it would have to make runs in all conditions.

India, still without a Test series victory outside the sub-continent in 16 years, went down by 10 and four wickets at Wellington and Hamilton, and it was clear that away from home there are still too many chinks in the Indian armour.

Jacob Oram, who supported Tuffey and Bond admirably, castles Zaheer Khan in the first innings at Hamilton.-N. BALAJI

New Zealand captain Stephen Fleming made the point at the pre-match conference at Hamilton. "We hear a lot about the Indian batsmen, their records. But if they are the world's best batsmen, then they should prove themselves in all conditions."

Fleming had a point and the onus was on the Big Guns of the Indian batting to deliver. They failed miserably, failing to cross the 200-run-mark in the four Test innings, at Wellington and Hamilton, and the time has come for us to ask the question — is the Indian batting really as good as it is made out to be?

Rahul Dravid was an exception, and he is one batsman who is extremely conscious of his performance away from home. Importantly, his initial movement on these pitches was to go forward, which is how it should be on seaming tracks, where it is a battle of wits between the pacemen and the batsmen.

Shane Bond, the express pace bowler, appeals for the wicket of Virender Sehwag in the first innings at Hamilton. Shewag was caught by Richardson.-N. BALAJI

What the Kiwi pacemen attempted was to push the Indians on to their back-foot early on, and then pick wickets with fuller length deliveries, with the batsmen caught on the crease. Here, the Indians had to get on to their front foot, unless the ball was pitched short, and then be judicious outside the off-stump.

A batsman can never really get his eye in on such pitches, and there is always the chance of a mean delivery springing up suddenly. It is also true that a batsman stands a better chance if he attempts to play forward rather than back.

By his high standards, Tendulkar had an ordinary series, and had he restrained himself against Darryl Tuffey in the second innings at Hamilton, when he was on top of the bowling, India might well have squared the series.

Zaheer Khan, who had two five-wicket hauls in the series, gets Mark Richardson leg before in the first innings of the second Test.-N. BALAJI

V.V.S. Laxman bagged a pair in Wellington, made a few runs in Hamilton, and given his talent, it is time he takes a serious look at his performances in such conditions. His lack of feet movement is certain to land him in trouble when the ball is jagging around.

And skipper Sourav Ganguly's tendency to play away from his body, with an angular blade only makes him a prime candidate to be taken in the slip cordon. Ganguly led the side well on the field, but as captain it becomes important for him to score runs, too.

Application was sadly lacking in the Indian batsmen, even if they had to bat first, with Ganguly losing the toss on both occasions. The pitch was certainly a bit damp when India was put in on the second afternoon in Hamilton, but the determination to fight was found wanting in the Indians.

Mark Richardson was the top-scorer in the series with a 89 at Wellington. Incidentally, this was the only half-century made by a Kiwi batsman in the series.-N. BALAJI

It is when the ball is behaving wickedly as on that second day of the Hamilton Test that you want one of the young batsmen to put up his hand and say — " I will fight, I will take blows on my body, I will not give my wicket away." It is attitude like this that wins a side away Tests in alien conditions.

What a shocking spectacle it was to see someone like Virender Sehwag, taking his eyes off the ball, and presenting a tame bat when Shane Bond got one to lift in Hamilton.

If your young batsmen do not have the heart and the will to battle when things are hot, then where is it going to take the team? Some of them might have been relieved that they had actually come out of the Test series without being injured, saving themselves up for the World Cup. A shame really.

There is a great danger of one-day cricket, with all its money and glamour, taking over the psyche of Indian cricketers, making them soft for the Test battles in testing conditions.

Rahul Dravid, India's best batsman in the series, pulls Shane Bond in Wellington.-N. BALAJI

It is time that India has a serious look at its opening pair. Sanjay Bangar did look compact on occasions, but Sehwag's place is certainly not at the top of the order in these conditions. Shiv Sundar Das, a compact opener, who not so long ago was considered a bright India prospect, should have received a look-in... at least in the second Test. Horses for courses should be the policy.

In the event, it was the bowlers who strove for India. Zaheer Khan was outstanding, notching up five-wicket hauls in Wellington and Hamilton, slipping into the role of the pace-bowling spearhead effortlessly.

The fact that he was returning from a knee injury makes Zaheer's performance all the more creditable. He ran in well, got into a nice rhythm, made the batsmen hurry their strokes, and reaped the rewards. His three-season wait for a five-wicket Test haul finally ended when he snared Daniel Vettori outside the off-stump in Wellington. And then, in Hamilton, Zaheer prised out five batsmen in the New Zealand first innings.

Since his return against Zimbabwe in the home series this year, Zaheer has bowled with much fire and heart, and he has been the most consistent factor really in the Indian attack. Even at home, where the wickets were not really conducive, he sent down telling spells against the West Indies in the Mumbai and Chennai Tests. Subsequently, a bothersome knee became a worrying factor. However, Zaheer has bounced back well from the injury.

In the years to come, Zaheer is likely to play a major role in the Indian campaigns and it is important for the selectors to use him judiciously. Especially away from home, where he is India's sword arm.

Harbhajan Singh, in conditions that should normally not have suited him, sent down a fine spell on the second day in Wellington, bowling against the stiff wind, and along with Zaheer was instrumental in bringing India back into the Test.

After being shot out for 161 in the first innings, the Indian bowlers restricted New Zealand to 247, and at that point of time, it did appear that if the batsmen made amends, on a pitch that had lost its early freshness, in the second innings, then India was in with a real chance. However, that opportunity came and went, with the Indian batsmen faltering again.

Similarly, at Hamilton, it was the bowlers who skittled out New Zealand for 94 in the first innings, helping India make history in the process; India's 99 thus became the lowest score in Test cricket to fetch a lead.

Ashish Nehra, his place on the line, bowled with purpose during the Kiwi second innings in Hamilton, while the tall Tinu Yohannan was steady. The bowlers were supported exceptionally well by Parthiv Patel behind the stumps. His sensational diving catch on the leg-side to dismiss Nathan Astle off Zaheer Khan in the second Test was one of the highlights of the series. He displayed the right temperament and technique with the willow as well, and confirmed his place as India's No.1 wicketkeeper.

For New Zealand, Mark Richardson was the rock at the opening slot and, looking back, his first innings 89 in Wellington, was a series winning effort. He is a limited player, but makes the most of his limitations, driving when the bowlers err in length, cutting when they pitch short, and defending the good ones. For someone who began as a left-arm spinner and switched over to batting only to prolong his career, the southpaw, who averages close to 50 in Test cricket, has done remarkably well for his side.

Astonishingly, for a side that won the series 2-0, Richardson's Wellington knock was the only fifty. Lou Vincent, the other opener, and strokemakers in the middle-order, Craig McMillan and Nathan Astle, could not really find their bearings. Skipper Fleming too struggled to find form, but his second innings 32 at Hamilton was a vital knock for New Zealand that chased 160. New Zealand may be third in the World Test rankings but it has some major batting worries.

Under the circumstances the pacemen called the shots, and Shane Bond has certainly made a huge difference for the home side. He is quick, swings the ball, and hustles the batsmen with his pace and bounce. Bond struck vital blows for New Zealand in the series, save the second innings of the Hamilton Test, where he strove for pace and lost direction.

Darryl Tuffey, the big strong medium pacer, made the early inroads though, hitting the right length, bowling an unwavering line, and giving away very little. He finally emerged as the bowler of the series for New Zealand.

The tall Jacob Oram, who made his Test debut in Wellington, was the right man to bowl against the strong wind, and he did the job manfully. Oram performed a useful supporting role with the ball, and made a crucial unbeaten 26 during the run-chase in Hamilton, where New Zealand won after the first day was washed out.

Except in the Indian first innings in Wellington when some catches were put down, the Kiwi pacemen were supported brilliantly on the field. Left-arm spinner Daniel Vettori, normally such a key player in the Kiwi scheme of things, did not get to bowl a single over, with the seamers relishing the conditions.

Qualitatively, Dravid's 76 in the first innings at Wellington was the finest exhibition of batsmanship in the series. It was a fresh first day pitch and there was plenty of bounce and lateral movement for the pacemen.

However, Dravid getting beyond the ball, playing close to the body with soft hands, and displaying immaculate judgment outside the off-stump, was equal to the task. He was easily the outstanding batsman for India in the series, and his second innings 39 at Hamilton, where he faced 100 deliveries in demanding circumstances, was another fine display of batsmanship. How one wishes, some of the other Indians had taken a leaf out of Dravid's book!

The scores: Second Test, Hamilton: India 99 (Bond 4-39, Tuffey 4-12) and 154 (V. Sehwag 25, R. Dravid 39, S. Tendulkar 32, Tuffey 4-41, Oram 4-41) lost to New Zealand 94 (Zaheer 5-29) and 160-6 (M. Richardson 28, S. Fleming 32, J. Oram 26 n.o., Nehra 3-34).

First Test, Wellington: India 161 (R. Dravid 76, Bond 3-66, Styris 3-28) and 121 (S. Tendulkar 51, Bond 4-33, Tuffey 3-35, Oram 3-28) lost to New Zealand 247 (M. Richardson 89, S. Fleming 25, N. Astle 41, Zaheer 5-53) and 36 for no loss.