While Chandigarh permeates into Mohali almost imperceptibly, a keen observer can pick a few giveaways that indicate he has left the Union Territory behind. For one, Devnagri disappears from the signboards, which are now only in the Roman script and Gurmukhi. Boulevards become a bit narrower and traffic signals, at places, may become optional.
It’s not to take anything away from Mohali, now officially Sahibzada Ajit Singh Nagar — it remains a remarkably planned and neat urban landscape. So much so that it is one place in India on their itinerary where the Black Caps will feel closest to home. Closest at least to Papatoetoe — the Auckland suburb which has a substantial Punjabi population.
It has also been a venue that has been kind to New Zealand. In 1999, they bowled India out for 83 in their first Test match here and piled up 630/6 in their second appearance in 2003. New Zealand have also won two ODIs here in 1997 and 2006. No one remains in the current team from those matches — only Craig McMillan (now their batting coach) played a part in the 2003 Test.
What most members of the current squad would remember is the World T20 victory against Pakistan seven months ago that sealed their place in the semifinals. Two players played a crucial role in that match, Martin Guptill (who made 80) and Ross Taylor (who hit a quickfire 36 not out), but to both, it would seem like ancient history.
Plodders in arms
A tweet on Guptill’s recent timeline is eerily portentous. As the New Zealand team took off for India for the current series, Guptill tweeted a picture of Taylor waking up and stretching, and wrote: “Somehow I keep getting put next to @RossLTaylor for our flights.” Six weeks later, they both must be feeling they are still put up together: in the same boat. Guptill has made a total of 171 runs in eight hits, while Taylor’s corresponding count is 110.
“It’s not an easy place (the sub-continent) to come in, had a difficult Test series, but Ross is a class batsman, he has shown that for a number of years,” said fast bowler Tim Southee when asked about Taylor’s form. “He is a quality player, he is not far away from, I guess a big score. He is still working hard at the nets. He is a senior player, he wants to obviously lead with some runs.”
The fellow plodder with bat, Guptill, can however lay claim to have won New Zealand their only match of the tour, with the ball. He scalped two wickets in one over of off-spin to get his two-toed foot in the door that was slamming shut on his face. It put the visitors right back in the series. On Saturday, then, the change in their body language was as imperceptible as ‘Chandigarh-Mohali’, but it could be spotted nevertheless.
While things looked the same from the outside, there was a spring in their steps in the nets. The jokes were somewhat louder and the backslapping a bit harder. “We prepare the same way before every match and I don’t think you can let what’s happened in the game before influence the game you are preparing for,” Southee insisted. “The team spirits are still high, it’s been a long tour, but the guys are still happy and a great group of guys came in a couple of weeks ago and the environment has been good”.
India, meanwhile, are smarting from a shock defeat. None more so than Amit Mishra whose reckless shot off Guptill made a bad situation for the team positively worse. Mishra is no Courtney Walsh with bat. He has a first-class double century to his credit, besides several valuable knocks in Tests.
However, he had a rush of blood to the head and attempted a slog-sweep that, perhaps, cost the team. “I can’t say much about my batting ability going down over the years. Last match was an opportunity and I played a bad shot. I thought it was required (to play an attacking shot) at that time. We could have won the game if any of us would have stayed in longer. Next time, I will take my time when there is a situation like that (in Delhi) and try to prove myself. The team has the talent to win every match. But like I said, we did not play to our potential. We would have won had we played proper cricket. We will try not to repeat the mistakes of the last game,” Mishra assured.
The 1-1 scoreline has spiced up a limited-overs series that has no real immediate meaning. At best it’s like an item song in a long Bollywood drama (read: 13-Test season) that doesn’t take the story forward but is there because the producer demands it, for it supposedly brings in more people to the ticket counter.
Bipolar crowd behaviour
The queues outside the PCA stadium on Saturday weren’t particularly long. In terms of crowd attendance, it’s a strange place. Hardly anyone turns up to watch the Test matches here, whereas even the neutral games in the World T20 earlier this year were nearly sold-out. Then, the empty stands resurfaced during IPL 9 again. There are various reasons behind this bipolar crowd behaviour. To begin with, it’s surrounded by a residential area and has limited parking facilities. And it being Mohali, and not the Union Territory, the mass public transport options are limited at best. The result is most fans are happy watching the match in their drawing rooms.