Spirited Show on Last Day, but Match Was Lost Earlier
By Sandip G | Published: 10th February 2014 02:19 AM |
Of Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s 11 away Test defeats — the most for any Indian skipper — this might hurt him the most. For, this was the closest his team came to defying the impossible.
Had India pulled off a heist at the Eden Park, it would have sparked resonance of another Eden Houdini, 13 summers ago. It could have been the reference point of another era waiting to unfold. Alas, it wasn’t. After all, comebacks of Eden magnitude occur rare. Once in a generation, perhaps. Maybe, even less.
Whether India deserved to win or loss is a redundant debate, for there is nothing fatalistically black and white in sport. Agreed that it was one of India’s finest bowling efforts in recent times in the second innings, maybe since Perth 2008. But it was one of their worst performances — one of sustained listlessness — from the post-lunch session on the first day to the same time on the third day. And that effectively cost them the game.
To bowl with little purpose, then to drop catches, then to concede a massive lead, and then to still hope is mere illusion than expectation. That no team has even won after conceding a deficit of 300-plus runs cements the point. “After such a sloppy performance in the first innings, you can’t expect teams to win. Yes, they came close to winning the match. But the task was always tough,” observed former all-rounder Mohinder Amarnath.
History best puts into the perspective the enormity of the task. Only four times in 2,118 Tests have teams batting fourth successfully chased down 400-plus targets; India managed it only once in 477 Tests. And only 19 times have teams tallied 400-plus in the fourth innings. But that wouldn’t deflect from the karma that set in motion India’s gigantic pursuit. They won a crucial toss, when the surface was most conducive to fast bowlers. They had New Zealand teetering at 30 for three. Then, they completely switched their minds off the game. “They sat back and waited for things to happen. They didn’t take their chances and dropped catches. That cost them the game,” Amarnath added.
Dhoni, though, didn’t agree. “That is part and parcel of the game. Anyone and everyone can drop catches.” But to think that the spilled catches of Kane Williamson and Brendon McCullum cost them a staggering 203 runs in a match that was decided by 40 runs does rankle.
Slip catching, since the old guards VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid parted, has plummeted. After Gautam Gambhir, they hadn’t any reliable short-leg fielder. “These are specialised areas and it’s high time we identified who to stand where. Otherwise, they are going to cost us a lot of catches, especially abroad where the edges fly faster to the slip cordon than in Asia,” observed Pravin Amre.
Not that there weren’t positives. The medium pacers demonstrated considerable pluck. The fielders were more vigilant on the field, the batsmen more assured in their second stint. The approach was radical, even at the face of adversity. But it was already a lost battle.
Read detailed match report: India Go Down in First Test by 40 Runs