Following India’s winless streak, Daksh Panwar catches up with a nation on a celebration overdrive.
Jan 17-19, Napier
Arrive in Auckland. Depart from Auckland. On board a fragile-looking single-engine aircraft. From 10,000 feet, New Zealand looks picture perfect, like a never-ending golf course. It’s very windy at Napier. The plane dives from one stream into the other. Hearts are beating faster. What would Rainman Dusting Hoffman have said of Air New Zealand, I think. It lands safely. The high-flying Indians crash-land in the tour opener, however. Lose despite a Virat Kohli century.
Catch a bus from Napier to Hamilton. Naked Bus, they call it. Only the name is suggestive, otherwise it’s a ‘family’ bus. It’s a journey into the heart of Middle Earth. Every hamlet looks like the Shire, every tree seems like the Party Tree. Reach the laidback Hamilton. Walk past a slew of Indian restaurants to reach Seddon Park, the most Indian of all venues, thanks to a slow surface and turn. Corey Anderson hits five monstrous sixes. One of those is caught singlehandedly by Jatinder Singh in the embankment. Jatinder’s friend, who is wearing a India’s old Sahara logo shirt, was going for the catch before deciding against it. Sahara pulls out, (a) ‘star’ steps in, a colleague puns on Team India’s sponsorship. India lose the rain-affected match.
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Auckland Jan 23-25
Duncan Fletcher gives batting tips to Ravindra Jadeja in the nets. Jadeja gives batting classes to the top-order in the match. Take a bow, Bapu, it’s a tie.
Hamilton Jan 26-28
It’s a bumper summer for New Zealand in literature, arts and music. After Eleanor Catton’s Man Booker, now Lorde has won two Grammys. After Catton’s The Luminaries, the interest in astrology here seems to have shot up. For, the ‘stars are in alignment’ is an oft-used phrase. The Indian team’s stars are in rearrangement, though. Shikhar Dhawan, Suresh Raina and Ishant Sharma are dropped; Ambati Rayudu, Stuart Binny and Varun Aaron are in. It brings no luck, India still lose.
Wellington Jan 29-31
India’s practice is at the Basin Reserve, one of the most beautiful cricket stadiums. But their match is at the hideous-looking monstrosity that is the WestPac Stadium. Looks like an ideal setting for Prison Break. No escaping for Dhoni, though, who went back to a conventional line-up in an inconsequential match. This too was lost.
Whangarei: Feb 1 and 3
Pleasantly warm weather. Exceptionally warm people, even by the NZ standards. The warm-up game. Any more ‘warm’ and we can boil eggs. Ishwar Pandey comes good with three wickets. The future is promising. The immediate future is not so, though. He sits out for the Tests, predictably.
Auckland Test Feb 4-10
Back to Auckland. Meet Jesse Ryder. Looks like changed man. Stays off the bottle at the party later that night. Two days later new breaks he has been reprimanded for breaking the team protocol and partying hard on the night before the match. Somethings never change. If it were a Hindi movie, Dhoni, too, would have hit the bottle after all these losses to drown the hurt. McCullum is clean shaven, gets a second chance after being put in. He makes it count with a double. India’s winless streak continues.
Wellington test 14-18
India have New Zealand on the ropes. Brendon walks out. He is dropped by Kohli on 9. India are left to rue again. Dhoni looks at the positives. The team has improved, he says. Can’t pinpoint the shortcomings, he adds. ‘Three plus One’ is the only bowling option we have abroad, he insists. It’s an unconvincing performance, at the press conference as well.
Wellington, Feb 19
Fish out the check list. LOTR tour, cross. Bungee jumping, cross. Queenstown visit, cross. Milford Sound cruise, cross. What have you seen in New Zealand in a month and half, I ask myself. Something that even New Zealand hadn’t seen before: a Kiwi 300.