Mumbai: India outclassed New Zealand in a brief but exciting series as they won the Mumbai Test by a record margin of 372 runs. Convincing victories in the T20 and Test series without dropping a game is sweet revenge for Team India which was ousted by the Kiwis in World Cups of all three formats of the game in the past two years.
It started in 2019 when the Indian juggernaut was halted by the Kiwis in the semi-finals of the 50 over World Cup in England. Team Blue was the favourite to win that championship but New Zealand crushed India’s dreams with a dogged display on the day. The ‘nice boys’ of world cricket, New Zealand had become a pain in the neck for Indian fans. Though India had not beaten them in an ICC event since the 2003 ODI World Cup, the 2019 loss hurt more.
In the 2021 World Test Championship, Kane Williamson and Co. outwitted India, who had dominated the tournament, with a one-sided win in the finals. Significantly, after losing to Pakistan in the recent T20 World Cup, India had a do-or-die game against their ‘new arch-rival, the Kiwis. But the Black Caps won easily as India bowed out of the tournament even before the knockout stage.
In the home series, India finally avenged their previous losses in style, beating the Kiwis comfortably, not only in the T20s but also in the test series. As India won in Mumbai, they also grabbed the top spot in Test rankings – fittingly ousting the Black Caps as the world’s top-ranked test side!
There were plenty of heroes for India in the series. In the absence of many senior stars, Mayank Agarwal, Axar Patel and Shreyas Iyer put up memorable performances. Mayank is not the first-choice opener anymore for India and may well sit out of the next test match in South Africa once K.L. Rahul and Rohit Sharma return. In such a scenario it is not easy to keep oneself motivated. Not only did Mayank display a fighting mindset, but he also showcased exemplary skills to counter spin on a turning track. In the Mumbai test, besides his 150 in the first innings, he scored a valuable 62 in the second. His achievement seems more special given that no other batter got a hundred in the match and only 2 fifties were hit on a track that was turning big.
Then there is Shreyas Iyer who was playing his first test series and hit a solid ton in his very first Test in Kanpur. Till now, Shreyas had been dubbed a short format specialist who could muscle the ball to huge distances but had not been tested in the longer form of the game. However, his smooth 100 in the first innings and then rescuing the team in the second innings, which was wobbling after a mini middle-order collapse, has found India a promising test batsman with huge potential going ahead. His performances have triggered a huge debate about Ajinkya Rahane’s place in the Test team. This discussion may not be music to Rahane’s ears but is a happy selection headache for India ahead of the crucial tour to South Africa.
It wasn’t just the young batsmen who shot into the limelight but emerging all-rounder, Axar Patel too impressed with his outstanding control over his bowling length and surprised many with his batting ability. During the second Test in Mumbai, he hit a steady half-century in the first innings and a whirlwind 41 off 26 balls when India was looking to declare in the second. Over the years, India has depended heavily on Ravindra Jadeja as an All-rounder, implying an overload of duties for him. Axar is filling that role successfully now allowing Jadeja a breather and a worthy left-arm bowling partner.
Meanwhile, it was business as usual for Ravi Ashwin who completed 50 wickets in 2021 and picked up his 9th Man of the Series award. Ashwin’s brilliance is reflected in the fact that 4-5 wickets under his name is almost a given and fans always expect such performances from him. Ashwin is quietly moving up the all-time great bowlers’ list. By bagging 300 plus wickets at home, he is now only behind the great Anil Kumble.
The series was played in excellent spirit between the two sides and it never looked as if India was out to seek revenge and it was billed as a grudge battle by many. But the victory was surely sweet as India was keen to make a statement after their recent losses to New Zealand. India won comprehensively and new entrants like Mohammad Siraj and Jayant Yadav in Tests and Venkatesh Iyer and Harshal Patel in T20s also left their imprints on this series.
As the new coach, Rahul Dravid got a perfect start to settle in his new role. With Rohit Sharma leading in the T20 format, the series with New Zealand also saw a successful start to India’s tryst with ‘Split Captaincy’. As Rahul-Rohit and Rahul-Virat forge a fresh think-tank, the team’s the tougher challenge is now ahead of them as they chase an elusive series win in South Africa.