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A game of abject surrender gives India fans sense of deja vu

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A game of abject surrender gives India fans sense of deja vu

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Bastab K Parida

02/24/2020

Does it seem like waking up to a dream or wearing that time travel machine to be teleport-ed to the days of early jitters? Surely, it didn’t seem like the team that had just won seven of their Championship games and decimated Australia on the latter’s home soil, just over a year ago.

Because this Indian team couldn’t lose a Test match like this. This Indian team was not meant to lose a Test like this. They are far better than this and have done far better than what the Wellington Test scorecard shows - an au contraire. There is some truth when Virat Kohli claims the side takes pride in being competitive or when Ravi Shastri says they don’t throw their towel if there is a sniffest of possibility to turn the table on the opposition’s plans. This Indian team is high on self-belief, nothing could stop them from doing what they have to set out to achieve - a legacy and establishing an era of dominance.

Then what happened at the Basin Reserve actually? Why did India’s best bowler across formats found wanting by dishing out one half-volley after another? Why was the world’s best all-format batsman unsure about his footwork and of course his selection of shots? Everyone can have a bad day, sure, but how could New Zealand’s last three wickets add as many as 123 runs against a three-prong pace attack and one all-time great spinner? How could India fail to reach 200-run mark twice in the same game when the wicket was nowhere close to venomous?

Putting the blame squarely on everyone sitting across that dressing room and the far reaches of Mumbai board room is the easiest of options available but in reality, it was the first time India failed to stage a fightback since the beginning of that 2018 South Africa series. It was the first time they were behind the eight-ball right from the word go and were never in a position to challenge the opposition. It felt a lot different but at the surface level, it looked awfully similar.

Wander your mind back to your growing up days when the first thing that you would witness on the TV during the long Winter days - was India tottering in a situation like 70/3 and trying to find a way to jailbreak. Or being put under pressure by some Ricky Ponting-inspired batting and not being able to tame the beast. If anything, playing catch up was their most regular business Down Under -  there would be an occasional brilliance or a fine spell of pace bowling, but mostly, the era was defined by struggle and anxiety. 

At the Basin Reserve, the tail wagged again, like James Anderson inflicted pain, like Shaun Pollock-induced damage. Trent Boult and Kyle Jamieson put Indian bowling under the sword, no square given but a lot was taken. Like the time India could never come out of the precarious situation and manage to hand over the momentum, the new India gave away 123 runs for the last three wickets and could never come back from that. Sensed a deja vu? I, very well, did. 

The Indian team of the yore lacked conviction and belief in their own style - a complete contrast to the time we are operating now. That’s the reason why the Wellington loss would really hurt an Indian fan and hurt massively for the years to come, no matter what they go on to achieve from here. The problems in Indian batting played a part in it, but New Zealand’s more-rounded attack played a bigger part. Even in the absence of Neil Wagner, their fast bowlers made the seam stand up much better than India’s and bounced them out as Wagner did in Australia for his breakfast, lunch and dinner. It would hurt an Indian fan because waking up at 4 AM this time was not meant to feel sad and frustrated.

When Virat Kohli was dismissed in the second innings on Day 3, his reaction was not of frustration and a damning indictment of his irresponsibility but rather one of resignation. You could see his face and make out that this was not the regulation thing for which Kohli is known for - brimming with confidence and the ability to put that behind almost instantly. 

It for this reason - even though that counts for a little - will make an Indian cricket fan go back and reminisce the forgettable days of Test cricket once again. That is the only thing the whole of India dreaded for years and they can only hope that Virat Kohli’s men can change the course of the series in Christchurch and make them forget the Wellington loss as a bad dream. 

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