As sharp as New Zealand bowled in the second innings, the Indian batsmen’s lack of application and confusion in approach were exposed. A look at how some of them succumbed:
Rahane looked like India’s most competent batsman in Wellington, where he seemed like batting on a different surface from his colleagues. In the first innings here, he got arguably the best, and the only wicket-deserving, delivery in India’s innings. But something snapped in the second. Right from the start, he was inexplicably attempting uncharacteristic shots, like backing away and slapping the bowlers over point, and shuffling across to flick them. It was a high-risk, low-percentage innings. Twice, he got hit on the helmet, once dropped off a miscued pull. There were enough warning signs that the counter-punching enterprise was doomed from the start.
But Rahane kept attacking the short ball, despite seldom looking in control. While he is an excellent player square on the off-side, he’s not as controlled square on the leg-side. Yet, he shuffled across to make room to pull a Neil Wagner delivery. The ball didn’t bounce as much as he expected and Rahane ended up chopping it onto his stumps.
It’s not the sloppy execution that rankles, but the rationale behind it. India had just lost Virat Kohli, and circumstance dictated a cautioned approach – sticking with Cheteshwar Pujara and seeing India through the day without further damage. Instead, Rahane was looking to pull the Kiwi bowlers into submission. He’s usually an attacking batsman, but here he was trying to over-attack, wafting at anything marginally short, without learning the lessons from colleagues’ downfall on the first day. Also, he was premeditating before every delivery. It’s a classic case of muddled thinking. Rahane embodies the flaws in India’s guiding philosophy of “intent”, translated into aggressive batsmanship. Or translated into silliness, to put it mildly.
His worst series in three years, wherein he failed to cross the three-figure mark in four innings combined (38 runs at 9.50). Kohli has looked not necessarily out-of-touch but out of sync. He was sucked by back-benders on both occasions. Playing for out-swing, but deceived by the inward seam movement. The movement was late, but shouldn’t hoodwink a batsman of his class.
Kohli’s footwork tells the story. At his best, it’s precise and decisive, he’s seldom crease-stuck. But here, on several instances, one could spot him premeditate and make a noticeable sideways step as the bowler releases the ball. It could be to annul the threat of the out-swinger, but it has made him vulnerable to the one that nips back, as his bat has to come around the front pad. The shuffle also ends up in Kohli reaching for the ball. So he meets it not under his eyes, but in front of them. The trouble is an extension of his over-eagerness to impose himself on the bowlers.
New Zealand bowlers have identified and exposed two glaring weaknesses in his technique. First, his susceptibility outside the off-stump, he can’t resist a poke. The next is his propensity to get into a tangle when defending the short ball. Shaw’s an instinctive puller of the ball, but not the most authoritative one. He tends to play a lot of pulls in the air, so when the fielders are stationed in the deep, he’s caught between attack and defence. The instinct kick in, he shapes up for the pull, common sense knocks next, he decides to defend or just twirl his wrists over it. But the bounce is often steep and he gets into awkward positions.
Rinse, repeat, rewind. In both innings, Agarwal got out in similar fashion. In the first, he played across, in the second, he failed to gauge the degree of swing. In both instances, he was looking to play around the ball, rather than straight. He was playing the angle of the ball rather than the line, a fatal misjudgement for an opening batsman. Consequently, he gets opened up and loses shape.
Yadav did nothing wrong. He got a corker from Bolt. But to designate him as nightwatchman was a terribly wrong decision. Hagley Oval was lurching into darkness, Boult was raging in, and even the top-order batsmen were struggling to put wood on ball. And Yadav is not the pesky nightwatchman who can hang around and conserve his wicket. He likes to throw the proverbial kitchen sink at the bowler. In the end it hardly mattered, but it was yet again indicative of India’s confused and baffling approach throughout the series.
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