There is simple, yet chilling, message that the first T20 international at Christchurh held out for the ‘Rock Stars from India’: spend time at the middle, getting used to the pace and bounce before you launch into ambitious strokes. Indeed, as Team India went down by seven wickets to New Zealand, it became clear that India’s stroke players will have to adapt, perhaps even to the point of restraining themselves a great deal.
There is no point in telling themselves: “We are like this only.” In the run up to the opening game of the tour, captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni had talked about adopting an assess-and-adapt strategy but, barring Suresh Raina’s display, the tactic remained on paper and was not in evidence in Christchurch.
Brendon McCullum did offer them a good look at how the innings needed to be structured. The Black Caps’ wicket-keeper curbed his natural instinct for strokes and stayed through the successful chase. It was interesting to note that he termed his own knock ‘ugly’ since he did not get used to the pace of the track.
Gautam Gambhir attempted to swat on the leg-side but the ball was dropped short and kept low enough to hit the top of the middle-stump. In O’Brien’s next over, Virender Sehwag tried to find the short boundary on the leg-side, missed the line and ended up losing his leg-stump. India should have quickly redrawn its approach.
Rohit Sharma flicked Ian Butler for a six over long leg and in trying to repeat the shot – but to a delivery that was kept short and perhaps stopped on him a but – he ended up skying a catch off the leading edge to the gully area, allowing wicket-keeper Brendon McCullum ample time to get under it.
Yuvraj Singh, who had just come to the crease, sought to sweep a ball that was in line with the stumps and was done in by the extra pace of Daniel Vettori’s arm ball. India’s chances of putting up more than fighting total hinged on how well and how long Dhoni could embrace the nip and tuck approach but that was not to be.
It was at this stage that Yusuf Pathan committed hara kiri. Even though his mis-hits clear the ground, he should have been restraining himself after clouting three sixes off successive deliveries from off-spinner Nathan McCullum. It was important that he stayed at the wicket longer since India had lost half the side inside eight overs.
For the second time, New Zealand bowlers had been allowed to bounce back after being struck for three sixes off successive deliveries. It not only showed how the Indian batsmen were intent on unleashing their penchant for the extravagant strokes but also how New Zealand kept its nerve under pressure.
Yes, the ‘rockstars’ will have to learn their lessons quickly.
Dhoni has again reiterated the importance of the assess-and-adapt tactic. “One area we need to improve upon is analysing the situation. One thing for sure is we have learnt a lot from our mistakes. We are a good side that learns very quickly,” he said. “We have youngsters who are willing to learn from the mistakes fortunately, if we don’t commit these mistakes again we have a very good chance.”
India’s fans will hope that Dhoni’s team-mates will not prove him wrong again.