Auckland, January 30, 2019
What a difference five years can bring to a cricket series!
When the mighty Indians last visited New Zealand, the team composition was more or less the same. The only change are the exclusions of Suresh Raina and Ishant Sharma, as well as Ravichandran Ashwin who is out through injury.
In 2014, a dramatic 315 run chase in the third One-Day International (ODI) at Eden Park ended in a Tie. India lost the other four matches, and succumbed to an embarrassing 4-0 series loss. They were humbled in the test series too.
The local media went on a frenzy with an opportunity to ridicule them outright. And they did so sensationally, targeting several players with links to lucrative payments from the Indian Premier League (IPL), and branding them as spoilt brats and highly paid icons incapable of winning outside the sub-continent.
The tide has turned! Contrary to the treatment received in Australia, the Indian team seem to have found admiration from New Zealand media. The Blackcaps are now taking the brunt of mockery.
The reality is that the blackcaps are a good team. They are ranked at the top with England and India. However, the boys in Blue are a world apart. Their recent victories in Tests and ODIs against the Aussies in Australia show their mettle. They comprehensively outclassed the Australians.
Mastery over Australia, New Zealand
Now they are unleashing the mastery upon New Zealand. The key to this success is their bench strength. The players in the wings are so supremely talented that the playing Eleven are fighting to their utmost for the sake of retention. This was the state of Australia during their decade of dominance.
For example, Ambati Rayudu is considered a fringe player, and a likely candidate to be swapped for a batting alternate. Yet, his average at 49 after 50 ODI appearances makes him an exceptional international player. Batting players such as Rishab Pant, Prithvi Shaw and Manoj Tiwari are unable to break into this squad.
On the bowing side, leg spinners Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav have bamboozled the Kiwi batsmen on supposedly shiny fast wickets, whereas pacers Mohammad Shami and Bhuvneshwar Kumar have out shone the brilliance usually shown by Trent Boult and Tim Southee at home.
These are great signs for the World Cup which less than five months away. At this stage only England appears to threaten India’s shot at reclaiming the Cup.
The good news for Cricket lovers is that the Indian team will be back in a year’s time to play two Tests, three ODIs and five Twenty20 International (T20I) matches.
The Test series will form part of the inaugural 2019–21 ICC World Test Championship.
Ravi Nyayapati is our Sports Correspondent.
Indian in good shape for the World Cup. (Photosport picture of Virat Kohli from RNZ under a Special Arrangement)