Nineteen. Twenty-six. Thirty-three. The top three Indian batsmen, Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan and Cheteshwar Pujara, scored in arithmetic progression at the Cobham Oval on Monday morning. For those looking for patterns in the two-day match, especially on the back of the One-day International debacle, the aforementioned sequence was perhaps the only thing that came close to it.
Other than that, the visitors looked a largely different side from the one that was beaten black and blue in the colored clothing. A day after the Indian bowlers’ fairly decent outing against NZ XI, it was the batsmen’s turn to get some runs and confidence under their belt.
Apart from Vijay, who lost two of his three stumps to an incoming delivery from medium pacer Ili Tugaga, the other batsmen looked in good touch. Dhawan, who survived a few anxious moments Sunday evening, played fluently before conjuring up to run himself out. A run out in a practice game. The bigger shame being, it was a picturesque cover drive that brought his downfall as he looked to take a non-existent third run.
Cheteshwar Pujara, who landed in New Zealand only a few day ago, was in the zone right from the word go, batting effortlessly for his 33. Which was when Roald Badenhorst trapped him in front. Pujara was looking to play across on the back foot and missed the line. It was practically the only time he missed the ball. The other 91 that he faced were played pretty much the way he intended them to play.
But the batsman who was the closest to being perfect in practice was Rohit Sharma. Rohit made his bones with a couple of whirlwind knocks in the 2007 World T20 and played 108 ODI before earning his maiden Test cap.
However, it’s in the calm flow of the longer format — in the white flannels and against the red cherry — that his unhurried batting blends in seamlessly. In a way he reminds you of Inzamam-ul Haq, who used to look like he had been slumbering before walking out to bat. The same for the droopy-eyed Rohit. And like Inzy, when strokes start coming off his bat, it seems Rohit could even bat in his sleep.
It was, then, in this manner that he went about his business. The poor form of the ODIs stretching back to two months, during which period he made only one fifty in eight games, looked like a thing of the past, as he played with a beauty befitting the surroundings.
It was a Monday, and the crowd was significantly less with barely a 100 people on the embankments. But they were treated for their effort as the Mumbai batsman unfurled elegant drives on either side of the wicket. One such stroke through the covers brought up his fifty.
“My state of mind is really good,” Rohit said after the match. “Nothing to worry about. I am enjoying my game. It is a different ball-game now. The Tests are different. It was good to have got some hit before the Test. So looking forward to the first Test.” Soon after bringing up the half-century, Rohit retired himself out in order to give Ambati Rayudu a chance. At the other end, Ajinkya Rahane, too, enjoyed an impressive outing, making 60 off 97 balls before calling it a day.
After Rohit, Ravichandran Ashwin took it upon himself to entertain the spectators as he played some of the most spectacular shots of the day, included two hooks for six over fine leg, on his way to a brisk 46. Just when the fifty looked there for the taking, however, Ashwin was bowled by Shawn Hicks off a fuller-length delivery as he tried to play it on the leg side and missed it completely.
Rayudu remained unbeaten on 49 as India ended the day at 313 for seven in response to New Zealand XI’s 262 for nine declared. After the match, Rohit said: “Everyone used that time really well. They worked on what they wanted to work on…It is going to be a huge challenge playing away from home conditions,” he added.
Performances in practice matches, as such, don’t mean much. They are required to be taken with a pinch of salt as the opposition isn’t really always world class. Which was also the case here.
That said, this bunch of players have done well in the Tests, home and away. There is a belief that unlike ODIs where India is still struggling to fill the gaps, the Pujaras and the Rahanes seem to have replaced the big guns in the longer format.
Come Thursday, this assertion will be put to test, in every sense of the word.
Brief scores: NZ XI 262/9 decl vs Indians 313/7 in 93 overs (A Rahane retd hurt 60, R Sharma 59 retd hurt, A Rayadu 49 n.o, R Ashwin 46)
Little Lord’s in tiny Whangarei
The Saurashtra Cricket Association Stadium in Rajkot and the New Cobham Oval in Whangarei are at the opposite end of the same spectrum: Lord’s.
Apart from the fact that at both venues you can find a Gujarati watching a cricket match, what is also common between the two grounds is that they have been inspired by cricket’s mecca when it comes to design. The Rajkot stadium imitated the press box at Lord’s while the Cobham Oval the pavilion.
The Cobham Oval is not only inspired by Lord’s, it’s also named after a lord — Lord Cobham, former New Zealand’s governor general and a cricketer of some repute.
“We are a bit traditionalist here when it comes to cricket,” said the 80-year-old Norman Wilson, the patron of the club. “That’s why we chose to build it like Lord’s.”
The oval is next to a rugby stadium which hosted a few 2011 World Cup matches. An impressive facility, no doubt, but the cricket ground is far more picturesque.
One of the very few cricket exclusive venues in New Zealand, the Cobham Oval, for 50 years, used to be a few kilometers north of its present location. However, the problem was that it was below sea level, so flooding of the wicket was a massive headache, informs New Zealand Cricket COO Craig Presland, who hails from the region.
What wasn’t an ideal location for cricket, was a perfect spot for a warehouse. A deal was the stuck, the warehouse decided to give NZ$ 3 million to fund the new stadium. “We had given our blood, sweat and tears to that place, but it just wasn’t perfect to play cricket,” says Presland.
It was a win-win situation for the business and the game, but it must have been difficult for the self-confessed traditionalists. No wonder that they went to the other extreme to compensate for it. To the other extreme for the Saurashtra stadium.