Wellington was an aberration?

Updated: Feb 27, 2020, 07:17 IST | Clayton Murzello | Mumbai

That can only be proved true if Kohli & Co get it right - starting with selection - in the Test at Christchurch where a Test win eludes India

India captain Virat Kohli and his team were under the gun in Wellington. Pic/Getty Images
India captain Virat Kohli and his team were under the gun in Wellington. Pic/Getty Images

Clayton MurzelloNew Zealand could be the hardest place to win at cricket with conditions so heavily tilted in favour of the hosts. But that is only one part of the reason why the Indian batsmen performed so poorly in the opening Test at Wellington where the hosts logged in a 10-wicket victory over the World No. 1 team.

Some of India's distinguished batsmen played like millionaires and old timers will point to the fact that the batsmen didn't conform to the need of occupying the crease long enough. One-drop Cheteshwar Pujara was not guilty on that score but the patience virtue didn't yield an impressive amount of runs for him — only 11 in each innings.

Virat Kohli couldn't resist driving at a fullish delivery from Kyle Jamieson and was pouched by Ross Taylor at slip. A pull shot in the second innings caused an edge, which was picked up by wicketkeeper BJ Watling. Ajinkya Rahane got starts in both innings but couldn't go the distance against some high quality swing and seam bowling. Opener Mayank Agarwal was the most impressive of all Indian batsmen at Wellington but his opening partner Prithvi Shaw gives the impression that he needs to remind himself that he's playing on tracks where the margin of error is far smaller than on Indian wickets. He's as attractive as the best strokeplayers in business but not all deliveries will be juicy enough to spank through the covers. Both his dismissals left the young man stunned.

Shubman Gill or Shaw was a pre-Test debate but the think-tank went for the Mumbai man despite Gill enjoying a very successful India 'A' series in New Zealand. That skipper Kohli and head coach Ravi Shastri felt Shaw would be a better option must be respected, but Shaw didn't justify the faith placed in him. If Gill is picked for the second and final Test at Christchurch, it will indicate that the team management was wrong in their choice for Wellington.

What's with India and opening Tests, I wonder. For the first Test against Australia at Adelaide in the 2014-15 series, the tour selectors decided to drop Ravichandran Ashwin and play leggie Karn Sharma, a move which didn't end up being a masterstroke. Karn sent back four batsmen;

three of those four (Warner twice and Michael Clarke) hit centuries. He has not played a Test for India since his debut.

Kohli batted imperiously for two hundreds in that Test and his second innings knock will go down as one of the finest innings witnessed at the South Australia venue. But his team, according to local spin great Ashley Mallett would have demolished Australia had Ashwin been in the playing XI. Mallett believed Australia would have struggled to get 300 with Ashwin in the opposition ranks, but they shut shop at 517 for seven.

For the first Test against South Africa at Cape Town in January 2018, the team bosses decided to leave out vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane and play Rohit Sharma instead. And though Rahane was not in the best of form before the Test, Rohit barely got to double figures in both innings.

Later that year, Cheteshwar Pujara found himself out of the playing XI for the first Test of the 2018 Pataudi Trophy against England at Birmingham.

Coming back to Wellington, Kohli's playing XI had Rishabh Pant as wicketkeeper and not Wriddhiman Saha. Pant was apparently included to boost the batting and considering he didn't fare disastrously with bat and the big gloves, he could well be retained for the Christchurch Test. For the record, Pant has played 10 out of his 12 Tests overseas.

Another debatable selection was that of Ashwin, who was preferred over Ravindra Jadeja.

New Zealand coach Gary Stead may have been chuffed at his team's performance, but he sounded like a gloater when he said, "We want teams to believe that it is as tough in New Zealand as it is playing anywhere else in the world. That's a pride thing." Sure, no praise is high enough for the manner in which the pace bowlers performed and the fact that New Zealand have not lost a Test at home for nearly three years shows they have some serious ability to demolish visiting teams.

At the same time, they have some ground to cover when it comes to winning overseas.

The Kiwis will also not be proud of their two whitewashes – against India and Australia, which was witnessed in between their series-leveling effort in Sri Lanka last year. They promised much but delivered little Down Under, something which shouldn't be forgotten while they are cock-a-hoop and happy to be back in home conditions now.

Rival teams have not said much about New Zealand's ultra challenging conditions in the fear of sounding like whiners. Sourav Ganguly should know. In 2002, his team were at the receiving end of a 0-2 whipping in conditions too much in favour of the bowlers. India were coached by New Zealander John Wright then and he didn't choose to be diplomatic about it in his book, Indian Summers.

India are in a position where they cannot win the series while the Kiwis are poised to maintain their incredible domination at home. A grassy track is expected at Christchurch and the only way the Indians can prove that Wellington was just an aberration is by piling up big scores and leave the rest to their ammo-filled pace bowling attack. Losses in New Zealand sometimes make teams look poorer than they are but there is good reason to believe India can bring their fighting qualities to the fore at Christchurch where they haven't recorded a Test victory.

mid-day's group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets@ClaytonMurzello Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper

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