The test series has ended 0-0 but I am inclined towards calling it NZ-2 and Ind-0, and I know I am not the only one. They came here as clear outsiders; they didn’t boast of a single superstar in their side; they come from a land where sheep outnumbers humans but, somehow, carried lion hearts with them. And what did we do? We complained about pitches. We complained that they played too defensively. There’s no secret as to who is smiling at the conclusion of the series and there’s no secret as to who enjoyed playing here more.
Cricket has that ability to ruin the plans, that ability to come up with the improbable. Weren’t the Kiwis dead and buried even before the series started? Weren’t they in a big hole when they were three down for next to nothing in the first test match? Although they have Indian skippers’ tactics and the pitches to thank, their resilience and fighting spirit can hardly be over emphasized.
While a drawn series is not too dramatic an upset; while some people can continue criticising Kiwis for being defensive, it is no mean achievement to not lose to India in India, ask Aussies for further insight into this. Kiwis, under Stephen Fleming, have always had an uncanny knack of dragging the opposition down. If they aren’t able to raise their level of play up to the opposition’s, they are very good at dragging the opponents down to their own level. One perfectly justifying testimony to this is the way Sachin has played against New Zealand in the 4 previous test matches, 2 in NZ and 2 in India. He scored a 100 runs at an average of 25 in NZ and 71 at an average of 17.75 in the Indian sequel. If ever there was a side that drew the defensive side, the non flamboyant side, the non smiling side to Sachin out, it is New Zealand. We all know he is at his devastating best when he is enjoying it out there, and Kiwis have been good enough to not let Sachin enjoy batting against them.
What is Stephen Fleming doing on a cricket field anyways? If he decides to play chess, FIDE will be more than happy to give him a GM norm based solely upon his escapades on the cricket field. He came with the reputation of being one of the best captains on the world scene today, and he has done no harm to his reputation in India. The big reason why two unevenly matched sides finished at Even Stevens could well be the skippers. On the one hand, we had Kiwis with a skipper who probably thinks about the game more than anyone among the present day cricketers; a man who seemed to enjoy the challenge he had at hand, and on the other, we had a combination of two men who have almost stopped having fun on the field and who, somehow, didn’t give the impression that they thought a lot about the game when off the field.
Where’s the romance, one may ask. They played like damn computers who had specific plans for every batsman and bowler before hand. They didn’t entertain our crowds, one may complain. They scored runs slowly and had defensive fields to curb Indian batsmen’s scoring too.
But they weren’t out here to win friends; instead they were here to not lose the series, if not to win it. And what’s more romantic than coming out with an upset stomach and battling for about 3 hours in the searing heat of Ahmedabad to save your nation’s honour? What’s more heroic than taking five wickets in a session and a half on a pitch which has been declared dead by Rahul Dravid and John Wright. Bear in mind these wickets were taken by a fast bowler and four of those dismissals were brought by absolute rippers bowled by Daryll Tuffey. Add to this the run out effected by Daryll, a piece of fielding even Jonty Rhodes would be proud of. What’s more courageous than scoring more than 50 in all of your three innings when, apparently, you aren’t technically equipped to play quality spinners? Craig McMillan overcame flaws in his technique to bail NZ out twice in the first test along with brother-in-law Nathan Astle. Sheer character shown by the Kiwis!