Bangalore: The second Test belonged to New Zealand bowlers. After their batsmen occupied the crease for almost half the match, the bowlers built up on the advantage putting pressure on the Indian batsmen throughout with accurate bowling, led by Daryl Tuffey and Daniel Vettori.
Tuffey has been a revelation in the two Test matches. Although not known for genuine pace as Shane Bond is, he demonstrated how a good line and length -- corridor bowling -- can play a major role even on placid and docile wickets. He kept the basics simple by not trying for pace but to rely on nagging line around the off-stump and bank on the subtle movement off the pitch. Accuracy was the key to his success. As for Vettori, well, he is currently the best left-arm spinner in the world. He relished bowling on Indian surfaces though his figures do not quite reflect his control.
And if you thought Vettori was the bowler of the series, don't forget he saved the match for New Zealand with bat in Motera! If India could have forced the follow-on in Ahmedabad, the Test could've been as good as over. Indeed talking of the follow-on, I can see the logic of Stephen Fleming carrying on his first innings on the third morning. In Ahmedabad, Ganguly was justified in declaring at 500 for 5 because he was the home captain and he had the bowlers who knew the conditions like the back of their hands. In Mohali, Fleming had his own reasons because a touring captain would like to completely make sure he is in a position to enforce the follow-on. Against batsmen at home in familiar conditions, a touring team needs extra cushion of runs.
It nearly worked for Fleming and the game was alive till the Final session. I have no doubt though if India had won the toss in Mohali, they would've ended as winners. The wicket was perfect for batting on the first two days. I know there has been loads of criticism against Indians for batting too slowly on the fourth day but look at it this way - India had lost both Virender Sehwag and Rahul Dravid within a few overs on the fourth morning. The hosts couldn't have afforded another setback at that stage and it explains why Indians were so cautious. The New Zealand batsmen adapted to the conditions very quickly with the help of some really batsmen-friendly pitches.
Our ground curators contributed a great deal in their success. Lou Vincent and Mark Richardson made the best use of the wicket and gave a solid base for the ever- improving Scott Styris to come and pitch in with his contribution. Craig McMillan, one of the few who has played Shane Warne with consummate ease, did exhibit his prowess and was aggressive on Indian bowlers. I thought Zaheer and Laxmipathy Balaji tried too hard for the initial breakthrough and drifted from the basics. They did spray a lot which helped New Zealanders to capitalise.
There was so little purchase for the spinners on the first two days that Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh had to toil real hard. I am sure the Indian spinners wouldn't have great memories of this Test match. The Indian batting slipped into extra gear almost immediately but the pressure of the mammoth total did tell upon them in the end. Sehwag played a gem of a knock and his partner, the young Aakash Chopra, again proved he is here to stay for long. Sachin Tendulkar didn't leave any impact in this series and would sure like to make amends in the Triangular series.VVS Laxman was regal during his first innings hundred and when he is in such form, the memories of his Kolkata knock against the Australians is refreshed over and over again.
He stood firm to save the match for India in both the innings. The amount of runs scored in the last two Test matches suggest the attempt made couple of years ago by the apex body of Indian cricket to upgrade the wickets by relaying it has proved futile. Good sporting wicket is so important to retain interest in Test cricket. Slow and docile wickets like Motera and Mohali can reduce further the already dwindling crowd for Test matches.
The need of the hour is to replace ignorant curators with the knowledgeable ones. Otherwise it could prove catastrophic for Test cricket. Having tried to make them understand the need of good sporting wickets on so many occasions; having told them what changes need to be done on Indian wickets and how the wickets are prepared abroad, it seems all such advice has fallen on deaf ears. The fact is, the concerned curators are highly incompetent when it comes to understanding of soil mechanics. Some of the "maalis" (groundsmen) have better practical knowledge than the so-called curators. The bowlers are the sufferers and the whole Indian cricket is the casualty.