1st ODI, Napier
To be fair, the first ODI match between the no. 8 and no. 1 teams in the world went according to script.
The script overseas is a far cry from the usual melodramatic, happy-ending feel-good mush churned out at home in the sub-continent. The limited overs script overseas is a dark, atmospheric, moody thriller with plot twists and turns, often with unpredictable endings. One thing is for sure- tearjerkers and underdog biographies are more common when India plays abroad. Because the team that plays them is often an underdog, thanks to the young Indian team’s spunk and ability to start as ‘favorites’ where ever they go (except South Africa).

New Zealand, fresh off a disappointing 2-2 ODI series (home) draw with the other dark horses West Indies, stepped up their game in the T20 format and destroyed the T20 World Champions in 2 games. They came into this 5 match ODI series riding high, quietly confident about their skills in their own conditions.
They were also keenly aware of the Indian team’s mental state after being taught a lesson in South Africa. A one-sided ODI series loss to the inconsistent South African ODI team hadn’t helped matters, apart from the sapping test series loss.

And many will, of course, remember THAT New Zealand series only months before the 2003 World Cup- where guys like Tuffy and Fleming had a confident Indian team on the ropes- making a mockery out of Ganguly’s ability to face the swinging ball. A 5-2 ODI loss as well as a 2-0 test loss capped off one of the worst ‘warmup’ tours for a rattled Indian team that miraculously pulled themselves together for the World Cup in South Africa. India’s last tour to New Zealand under MS Dhoni, though, did have a happy ending. A 3-1 ODI series win as well as a 1-0 test series victory capped off their dominance in 2009, with Tendulkar at the peak of his second-wind powers.

At Napier on Sunday, everything favored the visiting Indians for majority of the pulsating game. NZ managed to put up a very decent target of 293, just the kind of score Indian batsmen are known to hunt down with vigour and great power. The chasemasters were teeing the home team up, despite another failure by their opening pair, with the best batsman in world cricket combining with the greatest modern-day chaser in world cricket- putting on 95 delightful runs, pacing themselves to perfection.

Kohli has now scored centuries in 9 of the countries he has played in, except South Africa. Much like his first test innings in South Africa, Kohli took to these New Zealand conditions like he was never away from home. This was after Ishant Sharma had his usual ‘unlucky’ day, and Shami further proved how he is the only wicket taking Indian bowler available right now. Bhuvaneshwar Kumar, brought back into the team, was the best of them, as they managed to keep the explosive NZ batter Rory Anderson below 100, and the team less than 300. That was a minor victory in itself, considering Ashwin’s ability abroad and Jadeja’s newfound mediocrity.

Rohit perished after struggling once again, to the short ball no less. Dhawan scratched around for another 30 and gave it away after another start, again, to a short ball. Rahane failed to capitalize on his rare opportunity, and it was upto Virat once again.

Virat flourished through the innings, but eventually, after Dhoni’s departure, he fell to another bad ball. It is astounding that good balls never get him out anymore; it is always situational desperation that gets him out.

Finally, this was the first of his ODI centuries out of 12 (while chasing) that had resulted in an Indian defeat. No thanks to the Indian top order, and the lack of technique showed by Jadeja- who continues to reduce respect for Indian domestic cricket all over the world (How can this batsman have 3 triple centuries in first class cricket? How bad must the bowlers be?)

As expected, according to the usual overseas script, India go 1-0 down and will have to play catch-up.
Two things: Ashwin and Jadeja cannot play in the same team together anywhere outside the sub continent. And secondly, Ishant Sharma must be done away with. His once-in-a-year spells are too few and far between.

Also, serious thought must be given to bringing Cheteshwar Pujara into the ODI fold of things. He needs to be considered for the World Cup, which is exactly a year away, in these same conditions. This is shocking planning by the selection committee, who seem to be intent on keeping him ‘fresh’ as a ‘test specialist’. Not that the team is winning tests by the dozens abroad.

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