The first ODI between hosts India and visitors New Zealand took place at Mumbai’s iconic Wankhede Stadium on Sunday. As is usually the case when India plays international cricket in the city, I was present at the venue to watch my favorite cricketers live in action. The result, again, like the India-South Africa ODI in October 2015, didn’t go as planned. New Zealand defeated India comfortably by 6 wickets, chasing down 281 without much fuss. The ground hasn’t been a happy one for India in ODIs in recent years, and the Kiwis continued the trend with an unlikely – but very professional – victory over the famous home bullies.
Here are five things to mull upon from my Wankhede ODI experience:
Only For Bravehearts
Nothing has changed over the last few years. The bullring-style layout is an architectural marvel of nature. It continues to be absolutely wind-less and sometimes oxygen-less, making it a very difficult experience for a ticket-holder to survive for 8 hours in a bucket seat. But as long as Virat Kohli scores some runs, we don’t mind the suffering.
A Beautiful Chase
It isn’t easy to watch New Zealand run away with the game by making the Indian bowlers feel like they were in a 1990s ODI match all over again. But it is an oddly calming experience to watch Tom Latham and Ross Taylor put on one of the all-time great partnerships in India. It was a clinical chase – one that would have ironically made chase-master Kohli proud. There was a time when the asking rate came down to 7 an over with 24 overs to go – and it remained EXACTLY 7 till there were 6 overs to go. Latham and Taylor found a boundary an over so consistently, scoring 3-4 singles every over without any risks or worries. Not one bowler troubled them, and a missed run-out opportunity from a direct hit by Kohli was the only chance they offered. As an Indian fan, it was painful. As a cricketing fan in general, it was a privilege to watch two overseas batsmen play spin like they were born in the subcontinent. From 80/3, New Zealand cruised to 280/3 as if they were playing a warm-up game.
The fans were extremely sporting on a Sunday they could have easily spent in the comfort of their homes. The Mexican waves never subsided, they tried to infuse energy into the home team, they cheered each new Wankhede record flashed on the big screens, and they applauded the Kiwi grit as the partnership passed 50, 100, 150 and 200. At each milestone, there was a mini standing ovation, knowledge of the fact that the Indians were being outplayed – and perhaps there is no shame in that. It’s hard not to like a New Zealand cricket team, no matter where they play in the world. The ultimate ‘nice guys’ of cricket, sledging or taunting them would feel out of place and there was even a healthy mutual respect on the field between the players. At one point, when nothing was happening for the hosts, the crowd decided to light up the stadium using their cellphone torchlights – it made for a surreal, diamond-like pretty sight, a concert-style candle-lit tribute that even the umpires acknowledged out from the middle.
We had come to watch Virat Kohli. And we got what we wanted, at least in spirit. Kohli scored his 31st ODI century in only his 200th ODI match – and became the most prolific batsman in the history of the game after 200 matches. He passed Ricky Ponting’s 30 ODI centuries, and is only behind Tendulkar’s 49 ODI tons now. He became the first Indian batsman to cross 1000 ODI runs in 2017 and has averaged 83 in the last two years. A Kohli ton in the first innings is rarer than his trademark chasing tons, though he exhibited great restraint and patience, holding the innings together while the others struggled to get going. The second highest score to his 123 was Dinesh Karthik’s 37. New Zealand’s chase was the highest successful chase in ODI cricket at the Wankhede Stadium – beating the World Cup 2011 final chase by India against Sri Lanka (275).
Another Dhoni Struggle
It is surprising that not one publication seems to have mentioned yet another horribly mistimed innings played by MS Dhoni in the middle order. There seems to be a blanket ban on mentioning just how much Dhoni has been playing on reputation in the side over the last two years. He came in at 6 after Kedar Jadhav and Dinesh Karthik, and scored 25 off 42 balls between the 30th and 41st over, putting the onus on Kohli to keep the scoreboard ticking somehow. He used to start slowly and set himself up for a final explosion towards the end – but he never lasts till the end (unless it’s a chase at times) in the first innings these days. It was a painful innings to watch, especially because of the number of dot balls he played out in order to set himself for the last ten overs. He slashed Trent Boult straight to point and walked back having pegged his team back instead of setting up the foundation for Hardik Pandya. I’m not sure Dhoni might merit a place in the 2019 World Cup in England the way he is batting.