Virat Kohli wore the expression of an attention-seeking child after he hit a rasping cover drive and turned around to look at Duncan Fletcher, who was standing behind the nets, a couple of meters away from where the Indian vice captain was batting. Fletcher, however, was unmoved.
Two balls later, Kohli swiveled and played a pull as good as any you would see him play. Again, he looked back; again, no reaction from the India coach.
So what was happening here? It wasn’t that Fletcher didn’t like what he saw but he simply didn’t seem to notice them.
For consuming Fletcher’s attention on Friday was what was happening on the two adjacent nets. First, he monitored Shikhar Dhawan’s batting for a while and gave the struggling opener a few tips and instructions. Then he turned his focus to Ravindra Jadeja.
Jadeja occupies the all-rounder’s slot in the team. With his accurate, left-arm spin, he has been an asset of late. However, his batting has left a lot to be desired. Jadeja’s last innings of note was a 48 not out against Zimbabwe six months ago. Since then, either he hasn’t been required to bat, or when his services have been needed, the left-hander hasn’t delivered. In the two matches here, Jadeja looked completely out of depth. In Napier, he was dismissed for a three-ball duck by Mitchell McClenaghan, while in Hamilton, he was clean bowled by Corey Anderson for an eight-ball 12.
Focus on Aaron
On Friday, ahead of India’s do-or-die match at Eden Park, Fletcher made Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammad Shami and Varun Aaron steam in at Jadeja for an extended period. The coach gave him match-situations to bat in. You need eight runs off four balls to win, Fletcher told him, for instance. First ball, Jadeja charged ahead and connected. The coach nodded in approval. On the next ball, he was cramped up for room. Fletcher applauded Aaron, summoned Jadeja and told him how he should have played the ball.
The exercise lasted over half and hour, and perhaps assumed further importance given what happened next.
After the one-on-one with Jadeja, the sexagenarian turned his gaze to the next pitch, where Dhawan had been replaced by Suresh Raina. Raina’s stint under Fletcher’s watch didn’t last too long as the batsman was hit on the left elbow by a Mohammad Shami delivery which spat viciously from back of a length. Grimacing, Raina dropped the bat and clutched the elbow and went straight to the physio. He was left with a strapped arm. No sooner had Fletcher seen this than he walked up to Ambati Rayudu and said: “What are you doing, Rayudu? Put your pads on.”
Meanwhile, also putting his pad on, towards the end of the session, was Varun Aaron, who came in for praise from the coach on a number of times for his bowling. Ishant Sharma, on the other hand, had a very light session. As the players left the ground, Raina was still smarting. When asked by a journalist how he was feeling, Raina replied: “Bahut dard ho raha hai.” The team management, however, said the batsman was “okay”.
Also smarting from a couple blows are the Indian team. They are three match points down, so to speak, and need to win on Saturday to keep their hopes alive. The venue, Eden Park, is a massive stadium by New Zealand’s standards, with a capacity of 44,000. But it’s a small ground, and oddly shaped for cricket. From the fourth tier, it looks like a stretched ‘beta’.
The straight boundaries are small, an uppercut needs to travel just 45 meters to sail over the fence.
However, the square boundaries are stretched —66 metres on either side. And that’s where New Zealand will look to expose India again, testing them with short balls. If they win, New Zealand will complete an ODI series win over three top teams in the world, India, South Africa and England, in the last one year.
“We have always been competitive in limited-overs cricket. We have shown we can beat anyone on our day,” fast bowler Tim Southee said on Friday.
“It is the consistency we are starting to show. We are not where we want to be. We are starting to get there. Good sides win series consistently and that is where we want to get.”
And the way they are playing, India will have to step up a few notches to deny them.