It isn’t clear why anyone would want to shoulder arms to a not overly wide delivery from an off spinner on a turning,Day Four wicket,but cricket wouldn’t be cricket if it didn’t have room for the inexplicable. Speaking after New Zealand’s innings defeat at Hyderabad,Ross Taylor said that he victim of that aforementioned error of judgement and the rest of his side had failed to get to grips with the mental aspect of playing spin.
Bogged down by Ravichandran Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha,they had stopped,in his own words,trusting their defence and trusting their attacking shots. With doubt dulling his reactions,Taylor had allowed the ball’s loopy trajectory to transfix him.
By the time he realised what had happened,he was looking back at a set of stumps with no semblance of their former parallel geometry.
It wasn’t a pretty sight. Nor was the scoreboard. It seemed like a long time ago that Brendon McCullum and Kane Williamson were together at the wicket,looking secure against pace and spin,finding ways to survive and finding ways to score runs. It had only been three overs. One questionable umpiring decision McCullum was given out LBW after appearing to inside-edge the ball onto his pads and one questionable bit of judgement was all it took to go from 98 for one to 105 for three.
Even without the added pressure of a follow-on,the difference between 98 for one and 105 for three is starker for this New Zealand side than for most teams. Brendon McCullum,Martin Guptill,Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor have the potential to form one of the best top fours in the country’s history,but Daniel Flynn and James Franklin,numbers five and six,both average in the 20s from fairly lengthy Test careers.
After that,this side has none of the all-round depth of the better New Zealand sides. No Hadlee or Cairns or Parore or Oram. And no Vettori either.
At Hyderabad,New Zealand probably missed Vettori the batsman more than Vettori the left-arm spinner. Their bowlers did well on Day One to have India at 125 for three,and had skipper Taylor shown a little more positive intent against the two Test match newbies at the crease,India might not have crossed 400. It was clearly not the performance of Chris Martin,Trent Boult,Doug Bracewell and Jeetan Patel that caused bowling coach Damien Wright to announce his resignation.
And so,when Taylor and coach Mike Hesson bang their heads together in the brief interlude between Hyderabad and Bangalore,it’s the batting rather than the bowling that they’d be advised to tamper with.
There is talk of bringing in Tarun Nethula to provide spin support to Jeetan Patel,but it’s hard to see how the leg spinner will worry the Indians,given that he averages nearly 38 in first class cricket. And who will they leave out anyway?
But there is definite scope for change in the middle order.
BJ Watling has had an okayish start to his Test career,averaging exactly 30 in eight five-day matches,but carries some sort of form with him,having scored 60,72 not out and 40 in three ODIs against the West Indies without once falling to Sunil Narine. That is surely some indication of an ability to play spin. Of the two left handers at five and six,Franklin’s second-innings resistance should keep him in the side ahead of Flynn. Not that this will strengthen the side in greatly significant manner. How New Zealand must wish that they had Jesse Ryder,who on their tour to India two years ago scored 274 runs in three Tests at 54.80. Instead,he has been making news back home tweeting about his gambling exploits.
On that 2010 tour,New Zealand also played their cards a little smarter by spacing their best batsmen apart. In the first Test,McCullum opened,while Guptill,Taylor,Ryder and Williamson batted at three,four,five and six. Watling is an opener by trade having him partner either Guptill or McCullum and moving the other down the order could make some sort of difference at the Chinnaswamy stadium. Or not. But there’s no harm in trying.