It’s been a week of cricketing heists. Sri Lanka recovered from 67-8 to beat Bangladesh by 13 runs. In the U-19 World Cup, Sarfaraz Khan rescued India from 22-5 against Scotland. In New Zealand, the senior Indian team somehow surrendered a position of strength to finish their tour of the country without a single win. You’d have to go back to 1980-81 for the last occasion an Indian squad toured that country and failed to open their account.
The moments of the final day in Wellington undoubtedly belonged to Brendon McCullum and Jimmy Neesham. The 23-year-old debutant completed a hundred this morning. He finished with 137, a record for a No. 8 debutant. An over after Neesham’s hundred, McCullum played a late-cut off Zaheer Khan for four to complete the first Test triple century by a New Zealander. It took the country 391 Test matches over 84 years to get there, thus erasing the disappointment of 1991 when Martin Crowe was dismissed on 299 at this venue against Sri Lanka.
McCullum, who had defied pain and match pressure through his 13-hour knock, was caught behind a ball later. An assortment of fans, including office goers in business suits who’d skipped work, had turned up at the Basin Reserve to see McCullum leave behind this cricketing monument. It was an emotional moment in their history, one that deserves to rank among their finest achievements.
A declaration followed soon, but not before New Zealand had posted 680-8 in their second innings, their biggest Test score ever. Through McCullum and BJ Watling, they had turned around a lost cause, and denied India the satisfaction of victory.
Just to blemish their tour record further, Tim Southee and Trent Boult removed the Indian top three, leaving them staring at the possibility of a humiliating collapse chasing 435 in 67 overs. The collapse could have become a reality had Virat Kohli been given out caught behind on 15. New Zealand’s spontaneous appeal was supported by camera images and Snicko. But umpire Steve Davis fell for Kohli’s poker face and ruled not out.
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The rest of Kohli’s innings was dead-rubberised, inconsequential blur, a knock with the usual trinkets of a Kohli hundred—the powerful drives through the cover, whips through midwicket, and pulls that don’t seem ill-timed but somehow travel the distance—but an inconsequential knock nonetheless. Kohli would be one of the few India players who would return from the tour with his reputation enhanced, but ending the tour just as he’d started it: with a hundred in vain.
Looking at the larger picture, India have now gone 14 matches and nearly three years without a win abroad. New Zealand (2009) and West Indies (2011) are the only away series Dhoni has been able to win in his captaincy. While ODI statistics speak impressively about Dhoni’s leadership, his Test captaincy particularly on tour is littered with defensive tactics that have turned many wins into defeats or draws.
At the moment, there’s little time to groom another captain to lead India at next year’s World Cup. But Test cricket is independent of these cyclic limited overs events. Therefore it is time to consider the possibility of grooming captain to take over the Test captaincy.
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