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In resilient Christchurch, India look to bounce back after heavy defeat

A quiet resilience defines the city of Christchurch, and metaphorically there could not be a better city in the country, where Virat Kohli and Co could channel the bouncebackability.

Written by Sandip G | Christchurch | Updated: February 29, 2020 9:01:40 am
india vs new zealand, india vs new zealand christchurch, india vs new zealand 2nd test, ind vs nz, ravi shastri, virat kohli, cricket news Cheteshwar Pujara rides an electric scooter as he leaves Hagley Oval with teammates, Mayank Agarwal and Wriddhiman Saha. (AP Photo)

Shortly before 5 am on September 4, 2010, when half its residents were asleep, an earthquake that measured 7.1 devastated nearly 1,000 buildings in the city. Six months later, on February 22, at the stroke of one in the afternoon, weekday lunchtime in the central business district, the earth shook again, killing 185 people, a catastrophe beyond the wildest imagination of the Garden City of New Zealand.

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The derelict ruins still remain at the heart of the city. The Gothic cathedral that once stood majestically, the monument that brought the city its name, is partially restored, though its antique golden bells and wooden rose windows are enshrined in the national museum. Beyond that are open spaces, car parks or just waste ground, where once stood colonial buildings.

The last remains of the swanky Lancaster Park, Christchurch’s historic ground, was razed to the ground a month ago after years of debates whether to demolish or restore it as a symbol of the resilience of the city.

READ | How Christchurch became the mural capital of New Zealand

There are so many safety pylons on the sidewalks and roads that locals joke that the region’s traditional sporting colours — red and black — should be changed to fluorescent orange. The everyday sounds of the city have been replaced by jackhammers, bulldozers and the endless beeping of construction vehicles backing out of building sites.

Then, last March at the Al Nur mosque in the neighbourhood of Hagley Oval and Linwood Islamic Centre, 10-odd kilometres away from it, a gunman unleashed bullets on the worshippers, who had gathered for the afternoon namaz, murdering 50 people.

At the entrance is a pedestal, strewn with artificial flower and pebbles, emblazoning the message of love and peace. The scars remain, but the city has moved on and bounced back. To a visiting eye, life is returning, life is normal. Despite the tough decade, people perennially wear a smile. Hence, the moniker New Zealand’s friendliest city.

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A quarter of a mile away from the mosque is the main square, where life is bristling, the small retail outlets, food stalls and cafes are abuzz, like any modern Western town, people are warm and gracious, greeting every passerby, exuding not only enterprise and inspiration but also optimism. Beneath their warm smiles is an inner steel that has enabled the city to spring back to life. Says Douglas Hickey, an old groundsman, with a tinge of philosophy: “A tragedy sometimes brings the best out of human beings. How a man reacts defines him.”

A quiet resilience defines the city, and metaphorically there could not be a better city in the country, where India could channel the bouncebackability. Though to compare human disaster with a sporting tragedy is trivial, how India would respond from their first crushing defeat since the tour of England would considerably define the character of Virat Kohli’s team.

Team India’s predicament

india vs new zealand, india vs new zealand christchurch, india vs new zealand 2nd test, ind vs nz, ravi shastri, virat kohli, cricket news Virat Kohli talks with Prithvi Shaw ahead of the second Test against New Zealand in Christchurch. (AP Photo)

They have lost series in South Africa and England, dropped a game in Perth, but none of the defeats were as unprecedented as this was. Between then and now, India have unearthed arguably their finest-ever pace bowler, the batting unit has evolved, Kohli has raised himself to a superior level, a space inhabited by the greats of the game, there is talent and depth, there is pedigree and potential. Hence, the defeat was a shocker, the manner of the defeat gutting, shot out inside 200 in both innings, tracelessly blown away by the southerly.

Formidable a team as New Zealand is, no one expected the series to be a breeze. No one expected them, a mean side in their backyard, to be steam-rolled. But weren’t they back from a 3-0 drubbing in Australia? Haven’t they won just two Tests against the top-four teams in half a decade? Don’t they have the reputation to be frazzled in pressure moments? They’re a daunting but not an invulnerable side at home, a side with its own sets of weaknesses.

But they scarred India like few other sides in the past. In both South Africa and England, India began as the clear outsiders; in Australia, without David Warner and Steve Smith, India were on an equal footing. But here, India had begun as favourites. The defeat might have been ego-bruising.

The short duration between games magnifies the extent of the defeat, reducing time to recover. However, the short break could actually benefit India, for there’s little time to pine on the defeat and accumulate more negativity. Whatever changes they need to make, be it regarding tactics and personnel, those should be on an emergency basis.

Sometimes, this urgency perks up focus and determination. Or as Shastri puts it, “a shake-up like this is good.” His rationale: “It opens your mindset. When you are on the road winning all the time, or you have not tasted defeat, you can have a closed mindset, a fixed mindset. Here once you have seen what has happened, which is good, there are opportunities to learn.”

The team, he asserts, would be better at dealing with the challenges. “You know what strategies New Zealand are employing. Mentally now, you are prepared in what to expect and you have your plans, how you are going to counter that. It’s a good lesson and I am sure the boys are up for the challenge,” he avers.

Indians had never encountered a more unique attack that New Zealand’s in Basin Reserve in recent times. Their batsmen might have faced quicker, taller and shrewder bowlers, better swing and seam merchants, but not a combination of all these. It was not a singular peculiarity or gift of the New Zealand bowling that defeated them — in which case it was easier to identity and rectify the aspect—but a raft of different factors.

india vs new zealand, india vs new zealand christchurch, india vs new zealand 2nd test, ind vs nz, ravi shastri, virat kohli, cricket news Mayank Agarwal walks from the nets following a practice session ahead of the second Test against New Zealand in Christchurch. (AP Photo)

At times, it was swing, other times it was seam, then bounce, angles and the smarts of the bowlers. In short, if India are to stave off the blushes of a series defeat, they need an overall upgrading of their system.

You could see the effort of the Indian players at the nets to prevent another loss. Kohli’s India is not unused to it. In his first assignment as full-time skipper, Kohli’s team orchestrated a terrific comeback to win the series in Sri Lanka.

In Australia, his team rallied back resoundingly to win the series after losing in Perth. In the lost shores of South Africa and England, they’ve illustrated their wherewithal, albeit in patches. The only difference is that they hadn’t the mantle of No.1 side. The pressure of expectation on them was not as pronounced as it’s now.

“They know what to expect and they are mentally tuned and ready. Now it’s the execution part,” asserted Shastri.

At the nets, you could see batsmen experimenting with their guard, you could listen to them asking the net bowlers to bowl from different angles and release points. You could see them practising the back-foot defence and hooks off bowlers from around the stumps. You could see them constantly chatting with each other.

The bowlers, too, bowled with specific plans in the nets. Thus, there seemed to be a throbbing togetherness in dealing with the Wellington loss. They were chattier than usual, cracking jokes and bantering around, feeding off each other’s observations and opinions, as if they were unaffected by the Basin bashing. Even if they were, they were not showing it.

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