Can India at least turn things around in the Test series? If they emerge victorious, it would go a long way in erasing the memories of the 4-0 rout in the ODIs.
They came close to doing so in South Africa where after being outplayed in the ODIs they were within striking distance of coming back with a drawn series and it was only some stout hearted batting by the South Africans in the second innings of the first Test at Johannesburg that thwarted the Indians from winning before the visitors capitulated in the second game at Durban.
So the Indians did get their act together in South Africa after getting acclimatized to the conditions. Could we this time hope for an improved performance in the game’s traditional format, perhaps even a series victory? It would not be out of place on the face of it to hope for such a result for while South Africa are the No 1 ranked Test side, New Zealand are eighth.
But then of course that was the same situation in the ODIs where India were No 1 and New Zealand eighth when the matches started. The upshot is that in the latest rankings India have slipped to No 2 while the Kiwis have climbed up one spot.
India are of course not the No 1 Test side. But they are still six slots ahead of New Zealand. Against that, the abysmal away record of the Indians has been well documented particularly of late when they have had to endure 4-0 clean sweep verdicts in England and Australia.
And when India won the last Test series in New Zealand in 2009, they did so for the first time in 41 years. New Zealand as is well known are a pretty tough side to beat at home as the West Indies found out not too long ago when they lost the three Test series 2-0. Against India, New Zealand enjoy a 7-5 advantage in home Test matches going back to 1968.
I was way off the mark when I predicted a closely fought series in the ODIs. But then in the same column I also saw a keen contest emerging in the Tests and despite being proved wrong as far as the ODIs are concerned, I am prepared to stand by my initial prediction. All the visitors needed was some time to acclimatize themselves to the conditions, the surfaces and the opposition and having sized up everything, I am confident of a much better showing by India in the Tests.
Acting captain Rohit Sharma summed up the proceedings aptly in the two day match against New Zealand XI when he said "we got what we wanted from this practice game." All the batsmen were among the runs and all the bowlers were among the wickets despite restrictions (some batsmen were retired out while none of the bowlers sent down more than 18 overs). There certainly cannot be any excuses if the Test series is lost as well.
It is important for the team management that they put the right combination into place. Some of the decisions in the ODIs in this regard were quite inexplicable. We saw in the ODIs that the wicket and weather conditions are not exactly alien to the Indians.
In New Zealand, conditions are very different in February as compared to what they are in December. One reason why India lost so badly in 2002-03 was that both Tests were played in December and one reason why India won the series last time out was that the matches were played in March-April.
Keeping this in mind, MS Dhoni and the think tank will have to make a crucial decision about the team composition. Should they play four bowlers or five? Should they play one spinner or two? Should they strengthen the batting by including an extra batsman?
All the options must be considered and they should closely examine the performances in the ODIs as a yardstick for getting the combination right. There is an opportunity here to learn from past mistakes and set the record straight.
This is important for as the ODIs demonstrated, the New Zealanders, if not exactly a great side, are highly competitive. They have the personnel who can raise the level of their game and produce outstanding batting and bowling feats. They are a pretty balanced outfit for the batting and bowling is equally strong and they are clearly superior in the field. Their confidence level too must be sky high after the showing in the ODIs.
The Indians failed in the ODIs because they performed well below their potential. Incorrect team composition and some inexplicable decisions on the field by Dhoni were contributory factors. These errors should be avoided and now it is the turn of the visitors to play out of their skins if they want to duplicate the feat performed by their predecessors five years ago.
That is the only way they can get the better of New Zealand, win their first series abroad since they got the better of West Indies three years ago, help erase memories of the debacle in the ODIs and take the first step towards showing that they can be tigers abroad too.