Warner’s century gives Australia the series

Coming into the Chappell-Hadlee series, Australia were under enormous pressure. For a team which generally seeks to stamp its authority right from the word go, their recent performances have been extremely lackluster. When they donned the whites in Sri Lanka, they were humbled 3-0. Though the limited overs brought about a change in fortunes, they were in for a rude surprise in their next assignment against a high-quality Proteas side. South Africa, in their own backyard, blanked the Kangaroos 5-0 in the ODIs and then travelled Down Under to beat them 2-1 in the tests. The senior cricketers were misfiring and Steven Smith was feeling the heat. The Baggy Greens needed to reinvent themselves and firmly flex their muscle and this victory at Canberra, which gives them the series, is a step in regaining their much-acclaimed aura.

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The Kiwis came into the match knowing that a loss would take the Chappell-Hadlee trophy away from them. Williamson called it right and chose to field, hoping that his bowlers would do a much better job than last time. However, David Warner continued his rich vein of form in ODIs and danced his way to a superlative century. In the company of his captain, who was again in the runs with a quick 72, he put on 145 runs to take the stuffing out of the Kiwis’ attack. One would excuse Williamson if he had thought that his side had a chance to come back into the game after he latched on to Warner’s offering of de Grandhomme but Travis Head (57 of 32) and Mitchell Marsh (76* of 40) plundered runs at will to take their team to an imposing 378/5.

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In reply, New Zealand knew that Martin Guptill had to fire if they were to even come close to their Trans-Tasman rival’s score. The Kiwi opener threatened briefly but Pat Cummins got the better of him. Williamson and Neesham struck solid half-centuries but they were always significantly behind the asking rate. Hazlewood prized out Neesham and Cummins removed the Kiwi skipper to leave the visitors stuttering at 232-6. Starc (2-52) then combined with Cummins (4-41) to clean up the lower order and give the Aussies a much-required series win with a game to spare. New Zealand will be playing for pride in the last game at Melbourne.

A Dance to the Top

The manner in which the 4th day of the third test against New Zealand panned out stands testament to India’s dominance throughout the series. What started as a fight between a fearless and a win-hungry side under Virat Kohli and a spirited, fighting unit under Kane Williamson turned out to be extremely one sided as India danced to not only a series whitewash but also to the top of the test rankings. Let’s take a look at how the events unfolded throughout the 3 tests.

First Test: Green Park, Kanpur
Kohli called it right and India went in to bat first. Rahul and Vijay started confidently with the former looking to build on his recently gained momentum in the limited overs circuit. Though he fell for 32, Vijay and Pujara’s half centuries coupled with healthy lower order contributions lifted India to a respectable 318. Boult and Santner took 3 wickets apiece for the visitors. In reply, the Kiwis threw away a promising start (thanks mainly to Williamson and Latham’s fifties) and conceded a crucial 56 run lead. Jadeja lead the show with a 5-fer while Ashwin scalped 4. Vijay, Pujara, Rohit and Saha hit half centuries in the second innings as New Zealand were left with a mountain to climb. Santner and Ronchi offered some resistance but couldn’t sustain against Ravi Ashwin’s guile as the star off-spinner’s 6 wicket haul (10 in the match) sealed an emphatic 197 run victory for the Men in Blue. For 6 wickets in the game and crucial contributions with the bat in both the innings, Jaddu was adjudged as the Man of the Match.

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Second Test: Eden Gardens, Kolkata
The already bruised visitors were dealt a severe blow when their skipper and star batsman, Kane Williamson was ruled out of the game due to illness. To make matters worse, Ross Taylor, the stand in captain lost the toss which meant that his side will once again have to bat in the fourth innings. Despite all the setbacks, the Kiwi quicks bowled with a lot of heart as India were reeling at 46-3 at one stage. Pujara’s sedate 87 and Rahane’s solid 77 along with Saha’s fighting 54*pushed India to 316. Bhuvi swung the fortunes in India’s way with a brilliant 5-fer as the hosts gained a crucial 112 run lead. Matt Henry and Trent Boult ripped through the Indian batting with 3 wickets each before Rohit Sharma’s 82 and a second half century from Saha lifted India to 263. Chasing 375 on a deteriorating pitch, New Zealand were never in the game as Shami, Ashwin and Jaddu kept taking wickets at regular intervals to eventually bowl them out for 197. Local load, Wriddhiman Saha was adjudged as the Man of the Match for his twin half centuries.

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Third Test: Holkar Cricket Stadium, Indore
The first test at this venue turned out to be rather special for the Indian skipper as his luck with the toss continued. More importantly, he went on to score a majestic double century and along with Rahane’s fighting 188, helped India amass a mammoth 557. New Zealand looked to make a match out of it as they raced to 118/0 before Ashwin induced a leading edge from Latham’s bat. He scalped 6 wickets as the Kiwis were bundled out for 299. Gambhir, making his return to the test side shrugged off a shoulder injury to score a half century while Pujara continued his fine run in the series with a hundred as New Zealand were asked to score 475 to win the test. What followed was an unbelievable collapse as Ashwin ran through the Black Caps’ batting with 7 wickets which helped him bag both the Man of the Match and the Player of the Series awards.

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Virat Kohli received the mace from Sunil Gavaskar courtesy his side’s surge to the Number 1 ranking in tests and will be in high spirits ahead of England’s visit in a month.

India Versus New Zealand – Preview

New Zealand’s tour of India marks the beginning of a crucial home stretch for the Men in Blue. Apart from the plethora of limited overs action, the Indian fans will get to see their side play 13 Test matches spread against the Black Caps, the Barmy Army, Bangladesh and the Aussies. This period gains added significance as it might play a stellar role in the kind of legacy Virat Kohli leaves behind as a Test skipper. He has shown a lot of promise so far in his short tenure and the pressure will be on him to guide his side to convincing series victories.
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The first test against the Kiwis will be played at the Green Park in Kanpur. The pitch, as usual, has hogged the limelight prior to the start of the game. After the debacles in Australia and England, India has focused more on producing rank turners. The expected outcome of this decision was that the touring sides will feel completely out of depth and crumble like a cookie. What went unexpected was the amount of chinks in the armor of our own batsmen against quality spin bowling. England used this to their advantage en-route a historic series win in 2012. Other teams have also exploited this weakness in the Indian batting and so, it was not surprising when Anil Kumble, the current Indian coach, dismissed claims that the home team had demanded rank turners.
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Irrespective, it is clear as daylight that spin will be India’s weapon of choice against their opponents. Ravi Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Amit Mishra form an extremely potent attack and they will be expected to deliver a significant portion of the goods. Though Ishant will miss the first test, the fast bowling corner looks well-knit with Shami, Bhuvi and Umesh to choose from. Lokesh Rahul’s scintillating exploits over the last 6 months mean that he will most likely replace Shikhar Dhawan at the top. Pujara will look to rediscover his old self through the course of this home swing and Saha will want to continue with his impressive lower order contributions. Vijay, Kohli and most importantly, Ajinkya Rahane will be the batting main stays and the hosts will look up to these 3 to help post big totals. India go into the match as the favorites but they will need to hit top gear instantaneously as even a tiny blip might prove costly.
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The Kiwis are coming off a 204 run loss to the Proteas at Centurion. Kane Williamson knows that his boys will have to punch way above their weights to beat India in their own backyard. He himself will be feeling a lot of heat as most of the team’s run scoring hopes revolve around him and Ross Taylor. There is also this exciting rivalry between Kohli and Williamson. Arguably the 2 best batsmen of their generation, each will be looking to pull one over the other both as a batsman and as a leader. New Zealand are expected to play all 3 spinners – Ish Sodhi, Mark Craig and Mitchell Santner. They will be hoping to expose India’s recent frailties against the turning ball. Williamson will look to attack the Men in Blue from the word go and gain the upper hand as quickly as possible because he knows how hard it’ll be for his side to fight back if they fall behind in these alien conditions.

The Marauding Kiwi

It takes a combined effort from 11 individuals to have a successful day at the cricketing office. Of course, it is not always an equal contribution from all of them. On a given day, some may produce the performance of a lifetime while others might just want to crawl back into the dugout. As the sun dawns in Christchurch on the 20th morning, the country along with the rest of the cricketing world will prepare to see a champion in action for one last time. Over the next 5 days, New Zealand will be hoping that their most valuable impact player, Brendon McCullum, gets the perfect swansong.

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The journey started on the 17th of August 2002 against the Kiwi’s Trans-Tasman rivals. A young, brash wicket keeper batsman was representing his country on the international cricket scene for the very first time. Almost 14 years down the line, it is nothing short of inspirational to see how that young bloke contributed significantly in sharing his country’s affinity for rugby with cricket. A paradigm shift in people’s interests does not come about easily, especially in the case of sports. Riding on his aggressive batting, smart glove work and most importantly, his intuitive leadership, he brought about that change almost singlehandedly.

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Baz did most of his talking with the bat. He got his first test hundred against Bangladesh, a brilliant 143. Since then, he has gone on to make 10 more centuries including 4 scores of 200+ which is a national record. Though rued for his inconsistency, McCullum is the only player to have played 100 consecutive tests since his debut and has smacked 100 sixes in the process, a shared world record. It is a fact that his swashbuckling style has got him into trouble a lot but every time we thought he was down, he came back in a way only Baz could. A memorable, match saving 302 at Wellington against India is undoubtedly his best effort in whites.

New Zealand’s Brendon McCullum celebrates his triple century against India on the final day of the second test  at the Basin Reserve in Wellington, New Zealand, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014. (AP Photo/SNPA, Ross Setford) NEW ZEALAND OUT

McCullum was a bigger threat in the shorter formats and it is safe to say it was his intent at the top which set the tune for the Kiwis. He quickly evolved into a destructive opener who could take the fight to any opponent and punch them out of the game in a very short time. He set the IPL on fire with a breathtaking unbeaten 158 against RCB in the very first match of the inaugural edition. Since then, he has jumped from team to team but finally found a second home in CSK where he combined with Dwayne Smith to form a wonderful opening partnership. As of today, he is the leading run scorer in T20’s. One Day cricket brought about no changes in his style as he continued to provide the required impetus at the top. His juggernaut up front played a pivotal role in New Zealand’s successful 2015 World Cup campaign where they reached the finals.

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As a leader too, Baz was a winner. He has 11 test wins as the captain of the Black Caps which is second only to Stephen Fleming. More than the numbers, it was the attitude which he instilled into his team that caught the eye of many. He pushed the Kiwi’s to play an attractive and effective brand of cricket which lured fans from all over the world. Be it having 5 people in the slip cordon in a T20 match or setting about to chase an improbable target, he made sure that his team never gave up and always improved. As he takes the field for his final international match, Baz will expect one more fight from his boys to overcome their Big Brother and level the series. Irrespective of how that goes down, irrespective of how many sixes he hits, irrespective of how much he scores, the entire cricketing fraternity is going to come together and say ‘Thank You’ to one of their all time favorites.