India vs New Zealand Test Series: Talking Points

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On October 11th, India wrapped up a 3-0 Test series whitewash over the touring New Zealand side. The series was extremely one-sided, with India’s smallest margin of victory being 178 runs. What was the difference between the two sides?

Ashwin’s Domination

Over the recent years, Ravichandran Ashwin has asserted himself as one of the best spin bowlers in the world. While he occasionally struggles overseas, Ashwin is an unstoppable force in the subcontinent. In his last three series in Asia before this tour, Ashwin had taken an impressive 57 wickets in just 8 matches. This series was no different. The off-spinner took an incredible 27 wickets at an average of just over 17. This performance boosted him to the top of the Test Rankings as the number one bowler in the world. Ashwin, who was awarded man of the series, ripped apart the New Zealand on a number of different occasions, most notably in the Third Test where he picked up 7/49. His variations were the key to his success, utilising the straight ball effectively.

There is only one in area in which he can be criticised. In India’s tour of the West Indies, Ashwin was moved up the order to bat at six, and the move was successful. In that tour, Ashwin hit two hundreds and averaged over fifty. However, he was not able to replicate this form against New Zealand. Indeed, Ashwin only averaged around 20 and had a top score of 40. This is only a minor criticism, bearing in mind that India played an extra batsman in the form of Rohit Sharma. Nevertheless, Ashwin’s performance with the ball will be particularly heartening for India, given they have an extremely busy home Test schedule coming up.

Pujara’s Comeback

Coming into this series, India’s number three Cheteshwar Pujara was badly in need of runs. Unfortunately for New Zealand, Pujara returned to form. Pujara was the top run-scorer in the entire series, notching up 373 runs at an average of over 70. However, what will impress the Indian selectors the most will be the way in which he scored his runs. Previously, Pujara had been criticised for not scoring quickly enough and for not showing enough intent. However, in this series, he scored at a strike rate of over 50. Moreover, in the the Third Test, Pujara scored an unbeaten 101 where India needed quick runs. In that innings, Pujara actually scored at a rapid strike rate of just under 70. In the Virat Kohli era where aggression is key, this is a huge relief for India. It shows that Pujara is easily capable of playing more aggressively when he needs to, while still demonstrating his unerring consistency.

Yet, there is one area in which Pujara disappointed. Usually, Pujara is known for his ability to convert starts into large scores, but he never showed that in this series. Despite scoring three fifties, Pujara only managed one hundred. This was uncharacteristic, as prior to this series, Pujara had this same number of hundreds as fifties. In the break before England’s Tour of India begins, Pujara will need to spend time working on this. A return to the Ranji Trophy would be a very good way to practise this.

Kohli’s Lack of Consistency

There is no doubt that Indian captain Virat Kohli is one of the most talented batsmen in the world. Recently, however, he has been let down by a lack of consistency. Since he scored his maiden double hundred in the West Indies, Kohli did not manage a fifty in his next seven innings. However, he then proceeded to score another double hundred against New Zealand, as he broke his previous high score. If you look at Kohli’s overall series stats, it gives the impression that Kohli is a reliable Test batsmen. Indeed, a series average of over 50 indicates a sense of consistency. Yet, this is far from the truth. Kohli only scored one hundred in the series, his 211, but aside from that he did not manage one fifty. While Kohli is arguably the most consistent limited overs batsmen in the world, he is unable to replicate this trait in the longer format. Perhaps it is a lack of patience that has undone his success. He scored his runs at a strike rate of just under 60, and his overall career strike rate is high at over 50.

In the first ODI between India and New Zealand in Dharamsala, Kohli looked back to his fluent best, as he hit a match-winning unbeaten 85. Perhaps this was just merely a poor run of form and nothing to worry about. With series coming up against England and Australia, it is essential that India are able to rely on their skipper if they need to.

 Time Running Out for Guptill

New Zealand’s opening batsmen, Martin Guptill, also failed to impress. Guptill’s career Test average is an appalling 29. This is one of the lowest averages for an opening Test batsman in the world. For some time now he has struggled to score big runs and this series followed that trend. Guptill only managed 159 runs at an average of just over 26. Moreover, Guptill came into this series off the back of another atrocious tour, this time of South Africa. Against South Africa, the opener managed just 15 runs in three innings. This is not good enough on the international scene. New Zealand have a two Test series against Pakistan, the number two ranked Test side, coming up and it wouldn’t be surprising to see Guptill excluded from the squad.

However, this is a truly tricky dilemma for the New Zealand selectors, since Guptill has proven himself to be invaluable in limited over matches. Ranked as the sixth best ODI batsman in the world, Guptill has single handedly one matches for New Zealand in the past. Therefore, it may be worth giving him one more series to see if he can replicate his limited overs success in the longer format.

Ross Taylor’s Spin Woes

Ross Taylor had an extremely disappointing series. He failed to make any substantial impact with the bat, managing just 89 runs at an average of under 15. In the six innings he played, Taylor was out four times to spin. It appeared that he was desperately struggling to play in these conditions, which has historically been a weakness for him. His career batting average in Asia is significantly lower than in other continents. Taylor is a very gifted batsman, but this has highlighted a crucial weakness for him. Crucially, New Zealand are playing Pakistan soon in a Test series, on pitches which will turn. Moreover, Pakistan have the talented Yasir Shah, who will offer another test to Ross Taylor.

It may be the case that Taylor spends the time between the series solely working on playing spin, since it is such a fundamental weakness. If Taylor is too reach his full potential, it is essential that he overcomes this flaw.

New Zealand’s Spin Department

There is no better place for spinners in the world than in the subcontinent. With most pitches offering heavy turn after three days, spinners should be taking the majority of a team’s wickets. Yet, the recently concluded series indicated a worrying lack of strength in the New Zealand spin department. Between the spinners Ish Sodhi, Mark Craig, Jeetan Patel and Mitchell Santner, they only took 21 wickets between them. To put that into context, Ashwin and Jadeja managed 41 wickets between the two of them. Moreover, the New Zealand spin attack was worryingly expensive. Santner, who took 10 wickets in the series, went at an average of over 50. Mark Craig went at an average of just below 70.

This is very concerning for the New Zealand selectors. Perhaps they will blame this on the fact that Mark Craig missed two of the Tests through injury. However, I believe the problem runs deeper than this. New Zealand have not produced a quality spinner since Daniel Vettori and they are in dire need of one now. If New Zealand want to thrive in Test cricket, it is essential that they find a spinner who they can consistently rely on.