Spectacular moments destined to flavour the mood were the order of the day when India claimed 10 wickets on a pitch that wasn’t laid out without a spot of bother to favour the home team spinners and climbed to the top of the ICC Test rankings, but if there had to be one that stood out and summed up the spirit as well as defined and spiced up the ultimate merriment when it eventually happened, it was when Mohammed Shami sent the off stump of Bradley-John Walting dancing in the air.
The uprooted piece of wood took a bounce, floated in the air for a split second and flipped a few times, like a gymnast doing a breathtaking display of grace, balance and symmetry, before y losing the momentum all of a sudden to hit the grass lifeless, like a ferocious wild predator brought down by a clever hunter with just one sharp, fatal shot right in its head.
Coming as it did in the 61st over when New Zealand were reduced to 156 runs for the loss of six wickets on the fourth day of the second Test on Monday, that wasn’t any game-changing moment, but one that announced and decked up the approaching big occasion played out a little later and after a bit of impatient wait. And that was when Trent Boult tried to hit Shami out of the ground and, in the process, ended up in the hands of Murali Vijay, inspiring Virat Kohli to sprint towards Vijay raising his index finger in the air to emphatically tell the world where they were at that moment—No. 1—and passionately hugging Vijay and other members of his team that made the moment possible before walking off the field with a trophy stump in hand. “Surgical strikes” with sporting flavours.
A series win against New Zealand in home matches is not a big deal, but when it happened at Eden Gardens, it redefined a few areas that weren’t very impressive in the past even at home.
Normally, visiting teams were made to struggle on Indian pitches prepared to suit the slow bowlers, but things were quite different at Kanpur and Kolkata. While the pitch in the first Test offered a fair chance to both teams to bat and bowl, the one at Kolkata offered room for the spinners, the fast bowlers as well as the batsmen who were ready to focus their mind on nothing but the next ball. Except for the hot and humid weather conditions, over which the hosts had no design, there was no unabashed use of home advantage, so the series victory and the top ranking come without the usual cry of foul play.
The strategy of using just four bowlers came good in both Tests, but there were anxious moments even when the conditions were largely in favour of India as New Zealand began their chase for 376 runs in the second innings. It was an impossible target, but there were apprehensions as Martin Guptill and Tom Latham put on 55 runs for the first wicket.
A long way to go, and what mattered was just a wicket, either that of the struggling Guptill or the in-form Latham, but even when that happened, and as Latham went on to display his excellent adjustments against Ravichandran Ashiwn and Ravindra Jadeja and piled up runs through sweep shots in the company of Henry Nicholls, the heat was on the home team. With the second wicket partnership crossing the 100-mark, Kohli had to think about ways to stop leaking runs. Of course, the concern was shortlived, as Nicholls and Ross Taylor were sent back to the dressing room quickly, and Latham a little later, to put the equation out of the visitors’ reach at 141 for four.
At Kolkata, Kohli could post Ashwin near the boundary towards the final phase of the game and toss up the ball to other three guys, but in a home season packed with 11 more Tests and quite a number of ODIs and T20 matches, the four-bowler policy could negatively impact the key guys. A fifth bowler, either a regular spinner or a fast guy, depending on the nature of the pitch, could help reduce the workload on the top guns and keep the blokes on the bench match-fit.
Ashwin, Jadeja and Shami remain the key bowlers in the plot and they need to be fit and available for all the matches.
The writer is a freelance contributor based in India. All the views and opinions expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not reflect those of Times of Oman