Two close contests in the T20 format and two successive defeats for Team India at the start of its tour of New Zealand. Yet, unlike many others, I don’t believe the team’s morale will have taken a body blow as it heads into the five match one-day international series against the Black Caps.
Of course, India’s strokeplayers – up against a steady and resilient bowling attack, led by the crafty Daniel Vettori – let the team down in both games. If they learnt any lessons from the seven-wicket loss in Christchurch, it was not in great evidence in Wellington on Friday.
Then again, there are positives that the team can take into the one-day series. The most important thing is that Team India has had a good look at the Black Caps – something that had not happened since September 2005 when the sides played the final of a trination event in Harare. The ICC World T20 in 2007 clash was the only meeting since then.
Virender Sehwag got off to flying starts in both games while Suresh Raina, in the first game, and Yuvraj Singh on Friday picked up half-centuries that will instill confidence in the ranks. Admittedly, the batsmen will have to do a great deal better in the five ODIs if they are to sustain the development of Team India as a competitive unit.
India’s experienced bowlers, paceman Zaheer Khan and off-spinner Harbhajan Singh how found a rhythm that augurs well for the side but yes, there is work to be done as far Zaheer’s bowling partners are concerned. Ishant Sharma and Irfan Pathan came up a bit short of expectations in the T20s and will have to adapt sooner than later.
There has been a marked reluctance to use Virender Sehwag as a support off-spinner to Harbhajan Singh. I believed that he would have bowled as well as Harbhajan Singh and the rookie left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja. I wonder why Dhoni has kept Sehwag’s bowling under the wraps.
Here’s how the team stacked up in the two T20 games.
Gautam Gambhir: His twin failures should help him learn to wait to assess bounce and movement before playing his strokes. There is no doubt that he has it in him to succeed in the ODIs.
Virender Sehwag: Will need to stretch his good starts into long innings and not gift his wicket away. It is clear that the Black Caps are bowling to a plan, feeding off his strengths.
Suresh Raina: After playing a mature hand in the opening game when he made an unbeaten half-century, the left-hander made things difficult for his team by throwing his wicket in the second match. Will have to be consistent in his approach and performance.
Yuvraj Singh: Has appeared to win a battle with New Zealand captain and left-arm spinner Daniel Vettori when he struck him for two sixes in Wellington after being dismissed second ball in the first match. Can be a big factor in the ODIs.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni: Has yet to find his timing with the bat, though he made an unbeaten 28 in Wellington. As someone who has shown a remarkable ability to adapt to the situation, he was unable to provide the thrust in the second game.
Rohit Sharma: Will have only himself to blame for losing his place in the XI for the second game after playing an ambitious stroke in Christchurch
Ravindra Jadeja: Did his bit with the bat in the second game when he replaced Rohit Sharma in the XI and was more than a handy left-arm spin bowler as he helped Harbhajan Singh bring India back into the game. Sadly for him, he will return home.
Yusuf Pathan: Despite being foxed by Daniel Vettori in the second T20 contest, he will remain an important finisher in the ODIs but he will have to find the balance between unbridled attack and defence
Irfan Pathan: His inability to generate noticeable swing with the new ball in the second T20 game will be a matter of concern, even if he claimed two wickets off successive balls to infuse life into India’s campaign and make the match exciting.
Harbhajan Singh: Few will believe that the off-spinner is coming off an injury that kept him out of the one-day series in Sri Lanka. He has shown mastery over his craft, tying the Black Caps’ batsmen down in both games. And can be a huge factor in the ODIs.
Zaheer Khan: Has shown that he is an eager and thinking leader of the bowling back and a willingness to give up the honour of bowling the first over to Irfan Pathan in a bit to ensure that the fellow left-arm swing bowler could find his rhthym.
Ishant Sharma: Had a memorable start, picking up Jesse Ryder’s wicket with his first delivery in New Zealand but has done little justice to his talent after his appeal for leg before wicket off the next ball – against Martin Guptill – was turned down in Christchurch. He will have to hit the right length to be effective in New Zealand.