Former India swing bowler Balvinder Singh Sandhu on where India got it wrong and right in Auckland
It has been observed over the years that Indians take time to settle and adapt overseas. This has resulted in them struggling in the first innings of the first Test, an area that needs to be addressed while finalising the next away series.
Shikhar Dhawan strokes away on Day Three of the first Test against NZ on Saturday. PIC/AFP and (Inset) Balvinder Singh Sandhu
The team that snatches the reins of the game quickly is in position to dictate terms. Hence, it is important that players get enough time to adjust to the conditions in away series.
The team's think tank works out a strategy that they are capable of implementing. But excellent strategy is of no use if the implementers are short of skills. If this happens, the team is bound to fail. The task becomes uphill when the confidence level is low.
The New Zealanders have been brought up on seaming and bouncy tracks. Their batters' confidence is high after the highly successful (4-0) one-day series. In the ongoing Test at Auckland, they attacked the Indians who bowled the one-day length and made them pay for their sloppy fielding to pile up 503.
On seeing grass and bounce on overseas pitches, most Indian bowlers go berserk and wild — like horses who have not seen grass for a long time. Medium pacers start thinking like fast bowlers and in the process, they fail.
With high anxiety levels, bowlers start bowling short and waiting batters feed on it gleefully. What happens in this scenario is that the bowlers lose sight of their strength — pitching the ball in areas where they could move it in the air or off the pitch.
In Auckland, the New Zealanders are simply bowling length balls and allowing the ball to swing in the air. The upright seam helps to deviate off the seam, thus bringing the Indian batsmen on the front foot when they are expecting the short ball, their undoing in one-day matches.
By not getting on the front foot and on top of the ball early, any deviation creates trouble for Indian batters, who need to spend more time on these pitches to adapt.
The New Zealand bowlers took advantage of the Indian batters' tentativeness and put them on the mat just like Indian bowlers do while playing at home.
The Kiwis smartly bowled the sucker ball wide of off-stump or the short ball at the batsmen's throat when the Indian batters started getting comfortable on the front foot.
They shrewdly read the anxiety of the opposition batters and unleashed wicket-taking deliveries. Thus, the Indian batsmen were caught napping to be bowled out for a paltry 202.
To their credit, the Indian bowlers learnt from their New Zealand counterparts and bowled the length that needs to be bowled in order to exploit the conditions. On Saturday, the New Zealand batters were in all sorts of trouble.
It was good to see the Indian fielders backing up the fired-up bowlers, who corrected their mistakes of first innings, to bundle out New Zealand for 105 and brought India back into the game on Day Three.
The young Indian bowlers could do well to learn from fast bowling legend Kapil Dev, who bowled successfully overseas. Sometimes, over dependency on technology can take away opportunities of picking up valuable inputs from the experiences of former cricketers.
India are capable of achieving the 407-run target if they inculcate the mental discipline of legends like Sunil Gavaskar and Rahul Dravid, who dug in, tired out the bowlers and waited for them to err in line and length. Dravid was judicious in his shot selection and learnt in the company of Bharat Ratna Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman.
It must be remembered that at the end of the day, human beings play cricket and using data in one's 'headtop' is more useful and handy than information in their laptop.
A smart cricketer soon becomes aware of what works for him and what does not. This Indian team has the potential to perform and be the best, but it has to get organised in the head as most greats of the game did.