Arch-rivalry is not a term that cricket fans associate with India New Zealand cricket matches. Right from the time of Sir Richard Hadlee, to Stephen Fleming, to Brendon Mccullum and now to Kane Williamson, Indian cricketers have shared an extremely amicable relationship with their New Zealand counterparts.

Sir Richard Hadlee was one of the first few to congratulate Kapil Dev when the latter broke his record of 431 test wickets, back in 1994. The cordial relationship & mutual admiration that prevails between Stephen Fleming & MS Dhoni courtesy their association with CSK, is a well-known fact in the entire cricketing fraternity.

Brendon Mccullum was responsible for launching IPL on the global stage of cricket with his whirlwind 158* at Chinnaswamy in the very first match of the tournament. And of course, the sight of Kohli and Williamson chatting on the boundary line in the recently concluded bilateral series is a nominee for the Spirit of Cricket Award 2020.

Hence, over generations, cricketers of India & New Zealand have shared a friendly relation. They have gone on to uphold the spirit of cricket and become true ambassadors of the gentleman’s game. However, one of the most significant on-field heartbreaks for Indian cricket in 2019 came courtesy New Zealand, as the former was eliminated from the World Cup Semifinal, courtesy a top-order collapse.

New Zealand v India - First Test: Day 4
New Zealand v India – First Test: Day 4

Centurion 2003

After having a stellar journey in the 2019 Cricket Wolrd Cup, Indian batting suffered an unprecedented collapse in a bid to chase 240 in the all-important semifinal. As India got reduced to 5-3 in the 3rd over of the match, the uncanny similarity between Centurion 2003 and Manchester 2019 became pretty evident.

In the Super Six stage of the 2003 Cricket World Cup, Indian top order faced a similar collapse against New Zealand in a must-win encounter. The illustrious top 3 of Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag and Sourav Ganguly were dismissed within the first five overs of the match, courtesy a rampaging Shane Bond and an intelligent Darryl Tuffey. However, what unfolded thereafter was very different from what happened in the 2019 semifinal.

Rahul Dravid and Mohammad Kaif weathered the storm and steadied the ship for India. Both of them played risk-free cricket to reach their respective half-centuries and, in the process, guided India to a memorable win.

Trust in Players

Questions may arise that whether this middle-order collapse for India in the 2019 cricket World Cup is a one-off incident, that has got criticized way too much. However, closer scrutiny of recent multi-nation tournaments reveals that the real cause for concern exists in the repetition of similar mistakes by the Indian team management over the past few years.

The reason, India could survive a top-order collapse against the same opposition 16 years ago, was because at that time, India had a stable middle order and each player was confident about the backing they had from team management.

Just before the 2003 tournament got underway, India suffered an air-pocket series in New Zealand, where the Kiwis demolished the Indians in a string of one-sided matches. The Indian team lost the test series 0-2 and the ODI series 2-5, at the hands of the home side. Rather than the defeats, what mattered more was the manner of the failures that India faced during the tour, as India experienced repeated batting collapses in the green pitches of New Zealand.

Despite such an embarrassing series defeat, the Indian team management, much to their credit, stuck to the same players for the 2003 Cricket World Cup. This ensured the entire team that they have the backing of the team management, which made them secure about their positions in the playing 11. The confidence instilled by the team management ultimately provided the ideal launchpad for players to play with full freedom in the 2003 Cricket World Cup.

Clarity in Roles

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Rahul Dravid & Md. Kaif at Centurion 2003

To play an extra batsman in the team, the contemporary captain Sourav Ganguly asked Rahul Dravid about his willingness to don the keeping gloves in ODI format. Dravid obliged to his captain’s request and started training under a specialized wicket-keeping coach in 2002. For an entire year, Rahul got the time to develop himself as the premiere wicket-keeping batsman of the team.

Mohammad Kaif was the designated crisis man for the team, in case of top-order collapses, for the past three years. Be it the shocking collapse against Zimbabwe in 2002 Champions trophy or the Natwest Trophy Final, 2002 Kaif was always up to the task. In fact, on the 17th anniversary of the Natwest Trophy win at Lord’s Kaif stated that Yuvraj and he could weave the match-defining partnership only because both of them had played the previous two years at the lower middle order for India. Kaif even added that they were already aware of the potential challenges of playing at 6 or 7 for India, and hence could adapt their game according to it on that decisive day at Lord’s

Road Ahead

Virat Kohli is maturing as a captain, with every passing match. He must develop security and trust in his players going ahead. The entire team needs to have clarity about individual roles, for them to perform collectively in the big stage, under pressure. Kohli has got two crucial ICC tournaments coming up in the space of the next 12 months – The T20 World Cup in Australia in October 2020 and the ICC Champions Trophy in April 2021, in India. These two tournaments will surely decide Kohli’s future as the Indian captain in the limited-overs format. Hence, it is pertinent that India starts working towards developing a reliable and experienced middle-order immediately.