From the publishers of THE HINDU

VOL.32 :: NO.10 :: Mar. 07, 2009

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CRICKET / TWENTY20 MATCHES

Making the most of their abilities

For those who have followed the fortunes of New Zealand, it came as no surprise that the country defeated India, the Twenty20 world champion, in both games. Over to S. Ram Mahesh.

Because New Zealand isn’t the most high-profile team around, the Black Caps continue to be perceived as a bunch of monochrome, industrious men who make the most of their limited ability. For those who have followed the fortunes of the country, however, it came as no surprise that New Zealand defeated India, the Twenty20 world champion, in both games, winning the series (if it can be called that) 2-0.

At the vanguard of the talent revolution has been Brendon McCullum, who is a wicket-keeper of such quality that only Sri Lanka’s Prasanna Jayawardene may be regarded in the same light. But wicket-keeping being the obscure art it is, McCullum is known for his flashy batting, borne of a remarkably quick eye and correspondingly quick hands. Ironically, McCullum — or Baz, as he has convinced his mates to call him — felt his batting had gone off the boil. So he took on a role of responsibility, and promptly batted through the innings in both chases, the second in Wellington, a nerve-jangler worth the entrance money.

Where McCullum showed a surprising fondness for responsibility, the Indian batsmen, advertised ad nauseum as the rockstars of cricket, abandoned all pretences of any. The short boundaries in Christchurch and the relative flatness of both wickets tempted them to indiscretion, and they complied. Virender Sehwag looked startling destructive in both games, hitting his first three balls of the tour over the fence, but he spent so little time at the wicket that he couldn’t impact either contest.

Suresh Raina and Yuvraj Singh made half-centuries, and fine innings for varying reasons they were too, but the batsmen failed collectively in pacing the innings. Credit must be given to New Zealand’s bowlers, particularly Daniel Vettori, Iain O’Brien, and part-timer Jesse Ryder.

Vettori was outstanding, his bowling exemplified by the con jobs he pulled on Yuvraj and M. S. Dhoni. Against Yuvraj in the first game, the left-armer tossed it up, provoking perhaps the most indecisive footwork seen since Darren Gough decided to do Strictly Come Dancing. The next ball, flatter, knifed through the inadequate sweep stroke.

The spell to Dhoni was more riveting, for it involved a longer period. The Indian captain kept making room to explore the off-side, and his counterpart kept curling it into the right-hander, simultaneously undercutting it. Such was Vettori’s mastery that Dhoni barely played a stroke of authority. O’Brien nailed Sehwag in both games. His pace (early 140 kmphs) and movement into the right-hander are handy, but the bowling brain that reveals itself in his blog is what makes O’Brien such a worthy customer.

Ryder’s medium-paced yorker length deliveries proved difficult to get away. But he isn’t in the side so much for his bowling as his explosive batting, which he briefly showcased in the second game, pulling the first delivery — bowled by Irfan Pathan, who swung between the very good and the very bad without passing average — of the second game for six and establishing New Zealand’s intent.

Martin Guptill and Ross Taylor played their parts in both wins. Guptill, who lost three toes in a forklift accident, was particularly impressive after he overcame a nervous start in the first game. With McCullum not breaking the game open as he can, Guptill supplied the early firepower in Christchurch. For some reason, he isn’t looked upon as a Test prospect. New Zealand’s selectors can do worse than try him in the classical format. It mightn’t have been apparent in this format, but the tall batsman has all three cardinal virtues for success: he’s quick with the bat, he’s quickly into position even if his feet don’t always move, and most importantly of all, he sees it early.

Taylor has matured tremendously over the last two years, translating the early promise into consistent performances. He brings a touch of class and solidity at number four, and he did enough in both chases. Jacob Oram’s return from injury boosted Vettori’s side: his experience and calm helped, as did his magnificent catch on the line to dismiss Yusuf Pathan.

India’s spinners, Harbhajan Singh and Ravindra Jadeja, did splendidly to bring India back into the contest in the second game, forcing a last-ball finish. Jadeja also looked as if he belonged when batting. Harbhajan fired yorkers in the first game, and bowled with greater imagination in the second. He was highly effective in both cases. But these were isolated bright spots for M. S. Dhoni’s men, yet to defeat New Zealand in a Twenty20 game.




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