New Zealand’s cricket is pure, smart and flexible, its behaviour poised and fuss-free
India’s losing streak in Tests at Southampton got its third extension when Ross Taylor struck New Zealand’s winning runs on Wednesday evening. If the previous two defeats came in series involving host England (2014, 2018), the latest melt-down happened in a bigger contest invested with a larger meaning — the World Test Championship final.
New Zealand had also stymied India’s World Cup ambitions in the 2019 edition with a stunning triumph in the semifinal at Manchester and it still remains a festering wound.
Virat Kohli’s men again ran into the same opponent thriving on the eternally calm Kane Williamson, a set of handy batsmen ranging from fresher Devon Conway to veteran Taylor and an array of swing bowlers pitching it on a penny and also using the elements as a wonderful ally.
Once Williamson won the toss and the fickle English weather kept ushering in a damp curtain, Indian batsmen never felt at ease, even if in the first dig openers Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill strung a 62-run partnership. New Zealand maximised its advantage and with Kyle Jamieson bowling with seductive precision, edges were taken.
New Zealand played the percentages better and with Williamson being the batting glue in both outings, the eventual champion always stayed ahead of India. And when the chase commenced on the sixth and final day, the sun was out, the outfield dried up and shots carried to the fence unlike the previous days when the ball seemed arthritic.
The winning side also had the advantage of having played two Tests previously against England while Kohli’s men only had intra-squad warm-ups. It was brave of India to step in with five bowlers while expecting Rishabh Pant, Ravindra Jadeja and R. Ashwin to serve as a bridge between the top-order and a weak tail. India needed runs on the board but what emerged proved inadequate and there was not much cushioning for the bowlers when they stepped out with their boots.
India ran into a better side and there is no running away from that fact. Williamson has shaped a unit that works with rigour, is quick to change strategy and all done with remarkable finesse while the on-field behaviour is always one of poise. This was cricket without needless surround-sound but it had a purity and smartness that would have made the late Martin Crowe proud, obviously watching his wards from the skies.