Twenty20 — cricket’s most condensed format — doesn’t lend itself to obsessive analysis.
ommenting in 1975 on the fleeting nature of one-day cricket (which was then 60-overs-a-side mind you), England’s Tony Lewis wrote: It is easy to exaggerate sometimes, but even more unforgivable not to recognise moments of true excellence when you see them and savour them briefly before they die with the next ball, or, in this case, the next day.
Yet this is roughly where we find ourselves — attempting to recognise the moments of true excellence (and true mediocrity) in the two Twenty20 Internationals that have passed, so we may venture an extrapolation on how the five-match ODI series, next on the agenda, will shape.
It’s a measure of the space in cricket for the general and the particular to co-exist, that such an exercise across formats isn’t entirely foolhardy.
“It is great to play a few T20 games before the one-dayers,” said Indian captain M.S. Dhoni, who retained his equipoise despite the back-to-back defeats. “There is no point in sulking and complaining that we lost two games. I am happy with the preparation and the effort. Most of the guys have spent reasonable time at the wicket, they know how the wickets will behave, and this will be of great help when the one-day series comes around.”
India’s batting lost it the Twenty20 Internationals. But it wasn’t so much a case of being tyrannised by the conditions — which is often the norm on tours of New Zealand — as a failing of their situational awareness.
India’s batsmen didn’t pace the innings with the adeptness this format requires; they also appeared strangely out of sync, although it is difficult to put a finger on exactly what went wrong.
They lit the fuse at both ends in Christchurch, burning out before Suresh Raina and Harbhajan Singh rescued matters slightly. Here at the Westpac Stadium, they lost vital wickets in the middle, which, combined with Dhoni struggling to lay a vehement bat on ball, cost them the late surge that might have realised a total of 170 to 180.
Even here, we must be wary of exaggeration. It’s impossible to know how much of the batting failure was brain fade, how much was influenced by the New Zealand bowlers, who did terrifically well in finding the hole, as they call the yorker length, and how much was reaction not lining up with execution. Dhoni’s comment that we are a much more talented batting unit than we have shown doesn’t clear things up either.
New Zealand, on the other hand, found the right pace to bat at. The most pleasing aspect has been the top four with the bat, said captain Daniel Vettori, who himself has contributed outstandingly with the ball.
“They get us off to great starts and then finish it. That’s exciting because the top four wins a lot of Twenty20 games and a lot of one-day games. They will be together for a pretty long time, they’re all young, and so it is exciting times for New Zealand cricket.”
Batting second helped. Knowing the target allows easier compartmentalisation of the innings. What also helped, counter-intuitive as it sounds, was Brendon McCullum not hitting the ball as he’s accustomed to! He was forced to bat through the innings in the first game, gluing the power-hitters together, and although he rediscovered his touch in the second game, the experience of Christchurch stood him in good stead.
Perhaps the nature of one-day cricket (contrasted with Twenty20 cricket) will assist India’s batsmen. In the Twenty20 Internationals, Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag were in a hurry beyond even their considerable powers.
Sehwag once said he bats quicker than is healthy in limited-overs cricket, and this tendency seemed to manifest itself in his great mate Gambhir. The extra time to work with in the ODIs could be just what they need.
Sachin Tendulkar’s re-entry will benefit the side as well. Lost amidst his physical genius are his batting brain and the intangible value of his presence. New Zealand is where Tendulkar found his calling in one-day cricket, when promoted to open. Enabling India win its first ODI series here will round things off nicely.