Christchurch had a Game of Thrones-esque end to the Test as after promising so much in the first two days, Day 3 ended up being boring and anti-climatic. After bundling out India within the first hour, 36 overs were all the hosts needed to hand India their first whitewash in Tests since 2011.
Unprepared India caught off guard by New Zealand’s precision
There was one team and one team only that did their homework on the eve of Day 2 and clearly, that was New Zealand. Whilst the wicket was ever-so-helpful, the overcast conditions meant that the bowlers got more swing in the air than ever in this Test and that played into the hands of both Tim Southee and Trent Boult. Right from the very first ball of the day - a booming inswinger round the wicket to Pant from Southee - the Kiwi pacers were on the money and knew exactly what they needed to do. The odd short ball was there, yes, but unlike the first two days, the experimentation was minimal. They learnt from their mistakes on Day 1 and put up an exhibition of some simple-yet-effective no-nonsense swing bowling.
But that said, the approach of the Indian batsmen was questionable. The way Pant and Vihari went about their innings gave an impression that they were unprepared for and taken aback by the movement on offer. The two were, in fact, just going through the motions - there was no real intent to see off the first hour nor was there any signs of them taking an aggressive approach. Their blank-minded approach was epitomized by the approach of Pant, who was needlessly fending at balls outside off-stump before eventually getting one with his name written on it. No wonder they ended up adding just 34 runs to their overnight tally of 90.
Mohammad Shami’s hare-brained approach does no good
When you watch Mohammad Shami bat, you know that you are going to utter one of the two ‘W’ words - ‘WOW’ or ‘WHY’. There’s no middle-ground when he walks out to bat and he is, in a funny way, one of the more entertaining tail-enders to watch. But today in Christchurch, India did not need either of those two avatars. All the team needed off him was to stick around long enough to help Ravindra Jadeja take the lead north of 175. But unfortunately, that did not suffice. He perished after just 11 balls and was caught at deep mid-wicket after attempting a wild slog.
It might be silly to lambast a tail-ender for not sticking around, but in the situation the team was in today, Shami, and more importantly the management, would need to be held accountable. Having already lost both Vihari and Pant in the first 30 minutes of the day, what Shami did was mindless and unacceptable. This also raises questions of the team’s think tank, whether they actually communicated to Shami to curtail his instincts as at that point, the situation demanded the same. When your team is 115 runs ahead when you have a recognized batsman at the other end, you just don’t attempt an aimless slog. Not when the match is on the line. That it came from a veteran who’s played 49 Tests made things even worse.
Make no mistake, Shami can bat alright - like he showed in the first innings when he smacked Boult for consecutive sixes - but that ability is of no use if he is going to leave his brain in the dressing room before walking to bat.
Time for India to pull the trigger on Umesh Yadav away from home
It’s been 9 years since Umesh Yadav made his Test debut and yet no one, not even himself, knows what happens to him when he bowls outside India. The kind of conditions that were dished out to him in the morning, he couldn’t have asked for me - there was pace, bounce and plenty of movement on offer. So with the pitch doing its thing and with Bumrah pulling the strings from one end, all Umesh needed to do was to consistently keep nagging the corridor of uncertainty. But what does he do, instead? Strays all over the wicket and concedes 10 runs off his first two overs to shatter any hope India had of defending that 132. It was criminal, to say the least.
And truth be spoken, this has happened way too many times for him to ‘get a pass’. Umesh has taken one wicket or less in 11 of his last 14 innings away from home and in this period, the ongoing Christchurch Test included, he has played on wickets that have been tailor made for pacers to excel in. He, in fact, has taken just 12 wickets in his last 14 innings away from home. It makes you wonder if it’s time for the management to finally pull the trigger on him away from home and keep him as a ‘home specialist’, for he’s let the team down way too many times.
Given he was replacing Ishant and India went ahead with just three seamers, Umesh, with the kind of experience he has, had to rise to the occasion but with his performance here at the Hagley Oval, instead ended up betraying the trust of his skipper.