Millennium Post

The Big Fall

High-flying India came down crashing after suffering its worst ever ODI series defeat in New Zealand, losing the five-match series 0-4. The Black Caps also pushed India off the No. 1 position in ICC ODI rankings for the first time since the 2011 World Cup triumph. Many felt India would turn around after the thrilling tie in the third ODI. However, all hopes of a come back were quashed by the hosts in Hamilton when they cruised to a comfortable seven-wicket victory in the fourth match to wrap up the series. The inconsequential fifth ODI gave India a chance to pull off a moral-boosting consolation win before the Test series but the match in Wellington turned out to be a nightmare as the Kiwis hammered the world champions by 87 runs. Going into the match trailing 0-3, the famed India batting came a cropper once again as they were bundled out for 216 in 49.4 overs while chasing a target of 304. Virat Kohli’s 82 was the only saving grace as the visitors failed to put up a fight against the Kiwi bowlers, led superbly by debutant Matt Henry (4/38).

Besides the tie in the third ODI in Auckland, India had suffered defeats in Napier and Hamilton (twice) and Friday’s defeat continued India’s disastrous overseas performance after they lost the ODI series against South Africa before coming here. India had lost 2-5 to New Zealand in a seven-match ODI series in 2002-03. The last time India failed to win even a single match in New Zealand was in 1975-76 and 1980-81, losing 0-2 in both the two-match series. One of the key factors in New Zealand’s victory has been the form of their batsmen, especially Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor, both of whom again shone in this final ODI as well. They put on 152 runs for the third wicket, with Williamson scoring his fifth successive half-century in this series, while Taylor scored his second consecutive ton. He also has two other fifties to his name from this series.

With the World Cup just a year away, former India captain Sunil Gavaskar feels India should improve its bowling or be ready to give up the crown it won three years back. Blaming India’s pace battery for the series defeat, Gavaskar recently told a news channel India’s bowling remains a major concern. ‘I think the bowling is a major concern. In these condition where the new ball bowlers should be bowling well we are not doing so. We have not been doing so in South Africa, we’ve not been doing it here. If we do no improve our bowling by next year when India comes to this part of the world to defend the (World Cup) title, it is going to be very difficult.’ Ishant Sharma’s bowling and Suresh Raina’s inability to handle the short ball are perhaps the biggest concern for Team India. The consistency with which they have fallen to their own traps is becoming an embarrassment for India. With these two chinks in its armour, India are sorely missing that extra bit of opportunity to apply pressure overseas.

It’s evident that every ODI series India play this year will virtually be compared with India’s World Cup campaign in 2015. The selectors too are focused on shaping the team with the same thought. Under such a situation, shielding or backing players who have failed to rise to the occasion can become a liability as they move ahead. It would become further difficult for the selectors to think of a replacement for Raina or Ishant three to four months before the WC campaign.

Amidst all the setbacks, captain MS Dhoni brought some joy to the fans after becoming the fourth fastest batsman to complete 8,000 runs in one-day cricket, a feat he achieved in the fifth and final ODI in Wellington. The 32-year-old reached the milestone in the 26th over of his 243rd one-day match. It is a commendable achievement by the wicketkeeper-batsman who comes in lower down the order. The three men ahead of him in the list are illustrious compatriots Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and West Indian legend Brian Lara, all of whom batted in the top three.Dhoni took 214 innings to touch the landmark. Sadly, apart from Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni, most India batsmen looked out of place with the short stuff in the series. Rohit Sharma has failed to perform outside of the subcontinent while Shikhar Dhawan too looked uncomfortable against rising deliveries. Suresh Raina is having a lean patch for a while and not many fans would trust him while India play abroad.

Not surprisingly, India’s show has irked many former cricketers. Rahul Dravid recently came down heavily on the bowlers and said currently there’s not even one bowler skipper MS Dhoni can turn to in ODI cricket. ‘At the moment, the area they’re really struggling is in the ‘death.’ India don’t seem to have one guy whom Dhoni can turn to and know he will deliver the goods, which is tough for him as a captain,’ Dravid. Former skipper Sourav Ganguly feels India leaked too many runs in the series. ‘I feel selectors should think about two players, Cheteshwar Pujara and Zaheer Khan. Pujara is the most-needed batsman in these conditions. He has adjusted well in the Test mould and I’m sure he will do well in the ODI format. Similarly Zaheer is must-needed in the bowling attack. If he can bowl 30 overs in Tests, why can’t he do that for 10 overs?’ he asked.,’ Ganguly said.

Ground-breaking series win for us: Brendon McCullum

Delighted after drubbing India 4-0 in the just concluded ODI series, New Zealand skipper Brendon McCullum called it a ground-breaking triumph for his side and the most satisfying of his career so far.

New Zealand dominated the five-match series, the third game of which was a tie, even though India were considered hands-down favourites at the start of it. The Kiwis' fantastic run ended India's reign at the top of the ICC ODI rankings. ‘From an ODI point of view, this series is the most satisfying I have been a part of,’ said McCullum after the fifth and final ODI which the Kiwis won by 87 runs.

‘India arrived here as the number one ODI team in the world and not many expected us to compete with them, let alone get a series white wash. We are delighted with the way we played in this series especially on the back of fine performances from Ross Taylor and Kane Williamson, and also the way our bowlers stepped up. Overall, it was a ground breaking series for us,’ he added.

‘The key to our consistency as a team is that we are getting more runs, consistently. That is on the back of some good form, especially the way Ross and Kane have batted through the middle overs. For your number three and four batsmen to stamp their authority on the series the way they have done and the partnerships they have been able to create and get us in those positions to kick on towards the end, that's allowed us to get big totals.’

McCullum’s India counterpart MS Dhoni too feels lots of work needs to be done after the pathetic show in the ODI series. ‘Throughout this series, they (New Zealand) have played very good cricket. Their new ball pair has been very good but where they’ve taken the game away is in the middle overs batting which set up their charge late in the innings, picking up 80-90 runs consistently. From the talent point of view these are the players who have done very well in the past, winning the Champions Trophy. But they have to back themselves to play their strokes and the execution was lacking,’ the skipper said.

‘It’ll be a bigger test of character in the Test series and it will be good for our younger players. I am looking forward to it,’ he added.
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