As New Zealand got the better of England in the recent two-match Test series to register their first win over the hosts since 1999, there lay a lesson or two for the Indian team. Sarah Waris takes a look at what Virat Kohli and Co. would take away from the series between England and New Zealand ahead of the World Test Championship final.
Despite the recent successes of Team India in overseas conditions, the English frontier has been one that has been tough to breach. The Joe Root-led team have been near-invincible at home of late, but the Kiwis displayed how the side can be beaten in their own den with some thorough planning and homework.
With India gearing up to face New Zealand in the final, and then take on England in a Test series from August, they could do well to follow the example set by Kane Williamson and team.
The importance of playing out time
In a sternly-worded discussion on Sky, commentator Nasser Hussain pointed out how the English team have abandoned their orthodoxy of late, which was a major reason for their struggles in the recent series. The Kiwis, on the other hand, looked to defend more and play out time with patience, which played a part in their success.
💬 “They are acting like ‘everyone else that has played in the history of the game are wrong, and we are right’.” 💬@NasserCricket not happy after watching England suffer another batting collapse on day three of the second Test against New Zealand.#ENGvNZ 🏴
— Sky Sports Cricket (@SkyCricket) June 12, 2021
The Indians, who are known for their solid game at home, do not necessarily have the best technique defending in conditions that have swing on offer. Overall, they have lost a wicket every 25 runs in the last 14 Tests in England whilst scoring at a rate of over three an over. The Kiwis, on the other hand, scored 33 runs per wicket on an average in the recent series, while scoring at 2.94 per over.
The English team lost a wicket every 25 runs in the two Tests and scored at almost the same rate as the New Zealand side, which suggests a general inability to soak in pressure and stick for long.
Their poor defence technique — England saw their defence getting breached every 44 shots while New Zealand’s figure was 75 according to Cricviz — and their eagerness to score at a quicker pace was one of the reasons for the mauling they received.
While the lesson is not entirely novel, Indians, having witnessed the just-concluded series, would be more mindful of their defensive powers and would look to reduce the scoring options, at least initially, as they look to get a feel of the conditions on offer.
The importance of a spinner who could play a holding role
Contrary to popular belief, New Zealand have an excellent record against spinners in the last five years — they score at a rate of 3.26 per over against them with only Pakistan and India having a better scoring rate against slower bowlers in the interim — and lost their wicket every 37 runs against them.
The Indian spinners, on the other hand, give away runs at 2.77 an over in the last five runs and pick up a wicket every 25 runs, which could prove to be a key aspect of their journey in England too.
In the series between New Zealand and England, the Kiwi spinners conceded runs at 2.83, but they were aided by the restrictive bowling of Colin de Grandhomme, who conceded under two runs an over to perform the holding role to perfection. No player from England conceded runs at less than 2.40 an over, with the most economical spinner Joe Root giving away 3.12 an over.
With no player who could build on the pressure once the quicks were out of the attack, the Kiwis piled on runs with ease. India would be looking to correct that with the combination of R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja.
Valuable runs from the tail-enders
It is no secret that the Indian tail cannot always be counted upon to score vital runs lower down the order, given their usual inconsistency with the bat. If Ravichandran Ashwin makes it to the XI, the side will have a solid number eight with five Test tons, but if the conditions do not require two spinners, and India go ahead with four seamers, India will have a longer tail with a higher chance for England to wrap up the lower half quickly.
On the flip side, the opposition tail, over the years, has been a thorn in the flesh for India — batters between eight to 11 have scored 1,547 runs against India away from home in the last five years at an average of 17.57. On the other hand, the Indian tail has scored at an average of just 11.12 in SENA countries since 2016, which tells its own story.
In the recent Test series between New Zealand and England, the last three Kiwi wickets put up a resilient fight after the team had slumped to 294-7 in the first innings at Lord’s. Kyle Jamieson, Tim Southee and Neil Wagner stood tall for a combined 61 deliveries, to provide ample assistance to Devon Conway. The Kiwis ultimately ended with 378, which helped them take a 103-run lead.
With India’s tail not the most reliable, the onus increases on the top order even further, and a collapse up top could push India further away from their first series win in England since 2007.
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