By Partab Ramchand
The Indian team is on a roll and MS Dhoni in particular can do no wrong. But the true test of his leadership qualities lies just ahead and an accurate analysis of the Indian team can probably be obtained following the results in New Zealand.
As the Indian team departs for their tour of New Zealand where they will play two Twenty20 internationals, five ODIs and three Tests one can't help looking back on the metamorphosis that has undergone in contests between the two teams. New Zealand were the opponents whom India always got the better of. In fact it was in New Zealand that India won their first Test and first series abroad. And at home India were always too good for the Kiwis symbolized best by the famous world first wicket record partnership of 413 runs between Vinoo Mankad and Pankaj Roy and the innings and 109-run win at Madras in 1955-56 that remained for years the biggest victory margin notched up by India.
What a sea change in the scenario! India have not won a Test in New Zealand since 1976. Over the last 33 years they have played 13 matches, lost six and drawn seven. The nadir was last time out six years ago when they lost both the Tests and also the ODIs by five matches to two. Even these margins do not convey the manner in which the Indians were outplayed. The totals in the two Tests were 161, 121, 99 and 154. Sachin Tendulkar averaged 25, Virender Sehwag 10, Sourav Ganguly 7.25 and VVS Laxman 6.75 (including bagging a pair).
Rahul Dravid topped the averages with 32.75 and the Indians notched up just two half centuries. The New Zealand seam trio of Daryl Tuffey, Jacob Oram and Shane Bond had a ball. So much so New Zealand's cricketing fraternity wondered whether this was the worst side ever to visit their shores. Actually Bangladesh had been the tourists the previous year so that was stretching a point but it only underlined what a sore disappointment the highly touted Indian side was.
Over the years the Indian batsmen have obviously found it hard to survive in the swirling, seaming conditions in New Zealand. And if the Indian bowlers have made some headway in these helpful conditions the home team bowlers led by the peerless Richard Hadlee have done better to see to it that New Zealand's lofty reputation and excellent record is maintained.
In some ways against no other country has India such a woeful record. Since 1976 Indian teams have registered series triumphs in England, West Indies, Sri Lanka and Pakistan besides beating Zimbabwe and Bangladesh black and blue. They have won a Test in South Africa and shared a series three times in Australia. But in New Zealand over the same period of time they have drawn a blank. That the gap between the two teams overall has narrowed is driven home by the fact that even at home India have found it difficult to beat New Zealand and in fact the last two-Test series in this country five years ago ended with both matches drawn.
But it is India's abysmal record in New Zealand that is the chief concern. The Indian team is on a roll and MS Dhoni in particular can do no wrong. But the true test of his leadership qualities lies just ahead and an accurate analysis of the Indian team can probably be obtained following the results in New Zealand.
How will the Indian batsmen fare in the bowler-friendly conditions? And will the Indian bowlers rise to the occasion and use the swirling and seaming conditions to their advantage. Last time out Zaheer Khan had two successive five-wicket hauls but he had little support. Zaheer is a vastly improved bowler these days and can be counted upon to deliver the goods but it remains to be seen how Ishant Sharma and company perform.
The one thing going for India is that New Zealand is a struggling side these days. They and West Indies are fighting it out for seventh and eighth places in the Test rankings while India are rated a lofty third. In the shorter versions of the game though there is very little to choose between the teams both on rankings as well as recent results. Overall even though India are on a roll and are ranked higher a tour of New Zealand is always a tough proposition for any team. No side is more aware of this than the Indians.