New Zealand won the first Test by ten wickets, and came close to a repeat in the second, but their margin of victory, according to Kane Williamson, didn’t reflect how hard they had to fight to beat India.
When New Zealand slipped to 153 for 7 on day two, with India’s first-innings total still 89 runs away, the game could have gone either way. A lower-order fightback, followed by a magnificent second-innings display from their five-man seam attack, put New Zealand back on top, but Williamson felt another 50 runs from India could have made the result a whole lot tighter.
“An outstanding performance,” Williamson said at his post-match press conference on Monday. “I sort of said it recently, but I don’t think the result reflected how competitive the match was. Perhaps another 50 more runs from the Indians’ perspective would have made it quite a balanced-looking match, but the surface offered [help for the bowlers] throughout the whole game, so if you were able to put the ball in the right areas for a long period of time, as we saw both teams [do], you create opportunities and get some reward.
“Both games were a really good balance in terms of the surface, between bat and ball, and runs were quite tough to come by. You had to have a little bit of fortune go your way [as a batsman] and then try and put a bit of pressure on the bowlers first. The seamers in particular were trying to hit a hard length and watch the ball react. A great performance over the last two games from the guys. I guess you look at the surfaces and they both were perhaps seam-bowler friendly. But as a batting unit as well, the contributions that were made to get us to parity in the first innings of this game and in Wellington to get competitive totals on the board on these surfaces were really pleasing to see.”
Over recent years, pitches in New Zealand have started out green and seamer-friendly before flattening out considerably in the second innings. The pitches for this series were a little different, with spongy bounce in Wellington and pace and seam movement in Christchurch keeping the fast bowlers in the game throughout.
“Yeah, the pace in the surface was perhaps more closely aligned to some of the surfaces in Australia, maybe not so much the sideways movement which we saw throughout,” Williamson said. “But that made a sporting balance between bat and ball. That was something that was a little bit new for us as well.
“I think Australia have a phenomenal record at home, and equally, you could say in some ways that we do have that back here as well, and I think to play a team like India, and to be able to beat them 2-0 in our own backyard was a really, really important thing for us to bounce back from what happened in Australia”
“We have seen conditions here in Christchurch but then Wellington as well where it often does a bit early but then it certainly becomes a batting-friendly type surface and then it becomes guys putting in [a big effort] and bowling long overs and trying to create pressure over long periods of time to get that reward.
“Whereas in the last two games, the reward was a little bit quicker because the surfaces were slightly different to what we have had in the past but at the same time, it’s great when you see Test cricket where there is that balance, whether it is early, in the back-end of the game or perhaps the added pace meant that with the sideways movement, perhaps it had a ball with your name on it.”
New Zealand have had three challenging Test assignments back-to-back-to-back, and they’ve probably come out of it with their reputations enhanced: they beat England 1-0 at home, then lost 3-0 in Australia, before turning things around with this 2-0 win over India, the No. 1 Test team in the world, moving up to No. 2 themselves in the process.
“Probably the three top Test teams in the world, and we have them all in one go which obviously going into, and was, a very, very tough challenge,” Williamson said. “We talk about the quality of the opposition but obviously the difference in conditions as well, that was a factor.
“Disappointing showing in Australia but then at the same time, it was important that when we were playing at home, we continued to play the style of cricket that was important to us and playing well and ultimately trying to get results in our conditions and we saw that against two very, very strong sides. A lot of positives and a lot of learnings from that Australian experience as well.”
New Zealand coach Gary Stead said the contrasting nature of his team’s results in Australia and then at home against one of the strongest teams in the world reflected a growing trend for home-team dominance in Test cricket.
“I guess they’re completely different series, but I think what it does do is it shows how hard it is to play away from home,” Stead said. “I think Australia have a phenomenal record at home, and equally, you could say in some ways that we do have that back here as well, and I think to play a team like India, and to be able to beat them 2-0 in our own backyard was a really, really important thing for us to bounce back from what happened in Australia.”
Asked why he thought it was getting so difficult for teams to win away from home, Stead pointed to the conditions – the pitches laid out for India in this series, he said, were the polar opposite of what India might roll out the next time New Zealand visit their shores.
“It’s something all teams are trying to work out,” Stead said. “When you play away, how do you take points off the opposition, and how do you manage to find a way to win, and I guess in my short time in the role, we’ve been lucky, we’ve picked up two wins in the UAE, against Pakistan in unfamiliar positions, and we managed to pick up a win in Sri Lanka.
“Those wins, I think, become all the more satisfying when you are away from home, but I think on this Test match, I guess that’s the equivalent of us going to India, playing on a turning ragger against [Ravindra] Jadeja and [R] Ashwin. It’s just on the opposite ends of the spectrum, and that’s why, world cricket and Test cricket is so great, that you can play in so many different conditions, and not everyone’s going to be successful in all conditions either.”
With 120 points in the bag from this series win, New Zealand are now third on the World Test Championship table, with a solid chance of making next year’s final at Lord’s depending on how they do in their three remaining series. Stead, though, doesn’t want to look that far ahead.
“India were unbeaten coming into this series, so I guess, for us, delighted that we could get over the line there and get two very good wins,” he said. “We still have six Test matches to play in the [Test Championship], Bangladesh over the winter, which again is a tough, tough place to go, then West Indies [at home], and Pakistan back home again, so hopefully if we can keep playing the way we did in this series, we give ourselves a chance of getting to Lord’s, but I mean, that’s a long, long way down the track, and I guess all we can focus on right now is the next game.”