When the hunter became the hunted

India had the chances to end its winless streak abroad. Against South Africa at the Wanderers, it blew a gilt-edged opportunity to win on the final day. The story continued at the Basin Reserve. When is this horrific run going to end, asks S. Dinakar.

It was a nightmare in daylight for India. The match-saving world record sixth wicket partnership of 352 between Brendon McCullum and Bradley-John Watling would haunt India for some time to come.

Ahead by 246 in the first innings, India had reduced New Zealand to 94 for five in the second Test at the Basin Reserve in Wellington. A series-levelling victory for the visiting team loomed. Then things went wrong for Dhoni’s men, so wrong that the use of the word ‘nightmare’ is justified.

It is not often — particularly in these circumstances — that a pair bats for nearly four sessions. McCullum’s 302 was an epic.

The technically sound Watling donned the role of an able foil with a patient 124. The Indians were baulked at the doorstep.

Later, No. 8 James Neesham, a debutant, made an unbeaten 137 of level-headed and decisive stroke-play. New Zealand notched up its highest total in Tests — 680 for eight declared.

India’s hopes of squaring the series were snuffed out when most people, on the third day afternoon, felt the Test would not stretch into the fourth morning.

Dhoni’s men had only themselves to blame. The Indians lacked aggression, that ability to pounce on the opposition when on top. The killer instinct was clearly missing. Strangely, Dhoni’s methods were defensive when the Indians should have gone for the jugular.

India conceded easy singles, which served as a stress release for the host.

The Indians complicated matters for themselves by putting down crucial catches. McCullum was dropped twice, first by Virat Kohli at short mid-on when he was on nine, and then by bowler Ishant Sharma when he was on 36. Kohli’s lapse was particularly disappointing since he had been placed there as part of a plan. He ought to have been ready for the miscued hit.

The Indians’ body language reflected their mood; shoulders slumped and the intent was absent. Later, captain Dhoni praised his bowlers for their effort — principally bowling a lot of overs with little threat — which did not send the right message. The skipper should have been tougher on his men. The truth is the Indian bowlers are too dependent on the conditions. If the pitch flattens out a tad, they struggle.

Veteran Zaheer Khan sent down 51 overs for his five wickets. Despite the effort, he is not the bowler he was. His speed has dropped and the nip off the pitch is missing. Unless the pitch offers some assistance, Zaheer is up against it these days.

Ishant bowled with verve in the first innings to claim six for 51. The first day track offered him plenty of assistance, but he was a much easier proposition when the surface eased out.

Mohammed Shami is a skiddy bowler with some pace but if the pitch offers him less help, he relies too much on reverse swing. And the Kookaburra ball does not reverse much.

Shami impressed on the first day with his bustling methods but ran out of gas and ideas in the second innings.

Left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja is hardly effective if the ball does not grip. He was content to roll his arm over, operating to a flat trajectory.

Situations change in a game. Even if Jadeja’s role is primarily defensive while playing outside the sub-continent, he has to be more attacking, especially in a situation like the one India found itself in on the third- and fourth-day wickets where there were a few footmarks developing. With four left-arm seamers playing in the Test, an off-spinner could have exploited the footmarks better. R. Ashwin should have played the Test.

The Indian pacemen needed to display air speed and Jadeja deception in flight to pick wickets after the surface became better for batting. Sadly, they did not show these attributes.

India had everything going for it in the Test. It won a crucial toss, when the pitch offered considerable bounce and seam movement.

New Zealand batted when the conditions were so difficult that almost any ball could have had the batsman’s name on it. The team was shot out for 192. By the second day, the pitch improved significantly and the ground basked in bright sunshine. Driven by opener Shikhar Dhawan’s strokeful 98, Ajinkya Rahane’s maiden Test century and Dhoni’s powerful 68, India made 438.

Rahane batted with poise, was balanced and found the gaps with finesse. His 118 was a quality innings, stemming from sound fundamentals. Dhawan was tighter around the off-stump without quite losing his attacking game. Dhoni bludgeoned the bowling.

Though they were up against it, skipper McCullum, Watling and Neesham responded to the challenge in a manner that rewrote Kiwi history.

In a remarkable twist, India found itself in trouble at 10 for two soon after lunch on the final day. The side had been set a target of 435 in a minimum of 67 overs.

Virat Kohli nicked Trent Boult, but umpire Steve Davis did not hear or see the edge. Kohli went on to make a punishing century and the match ended in a draw.

In the end, Dhoni was left defending his defensive methods. India should have sealed the match in three days.

This was a Test when India had the best of the conditions after winning the toss. That it failed to drive home the advantage revealed a worrying lack of belief.

India has now lost 10 of its last 14 Tests on foreign soil. The team had its chances to end the streak. At the Wanderers India blew a gilt-edged opportunity to win on the final day against South Africa. The story continued at the Basin Reserve. When is this horrific run going to end? When is this Indian team finally going to put the pieces together for a Test victory away from home?

THE SCORES

Second Test: New Zealand vs. India, Basin Reserve, Wellington, February 14-18, 2014.

Result: Match drawn.

New Zealand — 1st innings: P. Fulton lbw b I. Sharma 13, H. Rutherford c Vijay b I. Sharma 12, K. Williamson c R. Sharma b Shami 47, T. Latham c Dhoni b I. Sharma 0, B. McCullum c Jadeja b Shami 8, C. Anderson c Kohli b I. Sharma 24, B. Watling c R. Sharma b I. Sharma 0, J. Neesham c Dhoni b Shami 33, T. Southee c Vijay b I. Sharma 32, N. Wagner (not out) 5, T. Boult c Pujara b Shami 2, Extras (lb-2, w-8, nb-6) 16. Total: 192.

Fall of wickets: 1-23, 2-26, 3-26, 4-45, 5-84, 6-86, 7-133, 8-165, 9-184.

India bowling: Zaheer 17-3-57-0, Shami 16.5-4-70-4, I. Sharma 17-3-51-6, Jadeja 2-1-12-0.

India — 1st innings: S. Dhawan c Watling b Southee 98, M. Vijay c Watling b Southee 2, C. Pujara lbw b Boult 19, I. Sharma c Watling b Boult 26, V. Kohli c Rutherford b Wagner 38, R. Sharma b Neesham 0, A. Rahane c Boult b Southee 118, M. S. Dhoni c Watling b Boult 68, R. Jadeja c Fulton b Wagner 26, Zaheer Khan c Watling b Wagner 22, M. Shami (not out) 0, Extras (b-8, lb-4, w-7, nb-2) 21. Total: 438.

Fall of wickets: 1-2, 2-89, 3-141, 4-162, 5-165, 6-228, 7-348, 8-385, 9-423.

New Zealand bowling: Boult 26-7-99-3, Southee 20-0-93-3, Wagner 22.4-3-106-3, Anderson 16-2-66-0, Neesham 18-2-62-1.

New Zealand — 2nd innings: P. Fulton lbw b Zaheer 1, H. Rutherford c Dhoni b Zaheer 35, K. Williamson c Dhoni b Zaheer 7, T. Latham c Dhoni b Shami 29, B. McCullum c Dhoni b Zaheer 302, C. Anderson c & b Jadeja 2, B. Watling lbw b Shami 124, J. Neesham (not out) 137, T. Southee c Pujara b Zaheer 11, N. Wagner (not out) 2, Extras (b-9, lb-12, w-2, nb 7) 30. Total: (for 8 wkts decl.) 680.

Fall of wickets: 1-1, 2-27, 3-52, 4-87, 5-94, 6-446, 7-625, 8-639.

India bowling: I. Sharma 45-4-164-0, Zaheer 51-13-170-5, Shami 43-6-149-2, Jadeja 52-11-115-1, R. Sharma 11-0-40-0, Kohli 6-1-13-0, Dhoni 1-0-5-0, Dhawan 1-0-3-0.

India — 2nd innings: M. Vijay c Anderson b Southee 7, S. Dhawan lbw b Boult 2, C. Pujara c Watling b Southee 17, V. Kohli (not out) 105, R. Sharma (not out) 31, Extras (w-2, nb-2) 4. Total: (for 3 wkts) 166.

Fall of wickets: 1-10, 2-10, 3-54.

New Zealand bowling: Boult 16-5-47-1, Southee 16-3-50-2, Wagner 11-3-38-0, Neesham 5-0-25-0, Anderson 4-1-6-0.