Lost by 296 runs. Lost by 247 runs. Lost by 279 runs.
Those were New Zealand’s results on their 2019-20 tour of Australia, their last Test assignment before coming back home for the ongoing series against India. Bruising defeats, back-to-back-to-back.
They were back in their own conditions, sure, unique conditions they are absolute masters of, but New Zealand’s confidence must have surely been shaken by their experience in Australia. To go from there to dominating the world’s No. 1 Test team from start to finish and almost beat them by an innings must have felt like a reaffirmation of their own quality as a cricket team. A proper bounceback.
Except, New Zealand don’t think about it that way.
“Bouncing back isn’t a term that we use or one we use within our group,” Kane Williamson, their captain, said at his post-match presentation at the Basin Reserve. “It’s just about stripping things back a little bit. You can get carried away thinking about results [especially] when you have a number of poor ones and sometimes the want for a good one can be a distraction to getting it.
“So it’s about focusing on the things that are important, the roles that give us the best chance of success, and if we do that the result manifests, and I think that’s what we saw in this game, and that was what was pleasing. Guys were really committed to their roles on a surface that offered enough to create a good balance between bat and ball. It’s a really important lesson moving forward to Christchurch.
“Any time you play India it’s always a tough challenge and we know it will be again.”
Williamson reserved special praise for his team’s fast-bowling trio of Tim Southee, Trent Boult and debutant Kyle Jamieson, who took 18 of the 19 wickets taken by the home bowlers in the Test, not allowing India to touch 200 in either innings. They even contributed 88 runs with the bat in New Zealand’s first innings, helping build a 183-run lead.
“Kyle Jamieson was brilliant,” Williamson said. “Through the summer… In white-ball cricket, he’s come in and made valuable contributions. A great debut for Kyle, contributed in a number of ways [four-for in the first innings and 44 with the bat]. A great experience for him to come into a somewhat established bowling unit.
“Southee’s mindset wasn’t of one with a point to prove [he was dropped in Sydney, New Zealand’s last Test before Wellington]. He just wanted to operate the best way he does. Having his good mate Boult at the other end would’ve been a nice thing for him too. The left-arm, right-arm combination has been so successful for us for a long time. They showed it today, especially with the older ball. We know India can bat for days, so the patience and energy they both showed was great.”
“To be honest I don’t think it was overly effective out there. It was when we changed back to our original plan to put the ball in the right area whilst using the change of length… is when we were creating more opportunities.”
Kane Williamson on New Zealand’s short-ball tactics
Jamieson’s performance has left New Zealand with a bit of a selection headache ahead of the second Test in Christchurch, where Neil Wagner, their regular third seamer, will be available again after missing the first Test on paternity leave.
“Kyle was brilliant in his debut and I think we saw in the white-ball format how he is able to contribute in so many different areas,” Williamson said at his press conference. “Obviously that slightly unique part to his game with his height where he creates quite a different bounce.
“Neil will be pretty excited to get back to the team as well so it’s really handy. Obviously we have Matt Henry with us as well and he has been a really good performer for the team as well. I guess when you reflect back over the last few weeks, when we had so many fast bowlers with injuries, they’re all fit and coming back into the fold, and you feel there is that element of depth with fast bowlers that we always thought we had until we had four or five injuries.”
Plenty was made of New Zealand’s use of the short ball as a defensive strategy, but Williamson felt it hadn’t worked all that well in this game – on day four, it was with traditional swing and seam from good lengths that Southee and Boult ran through India’s middle and lower order.
“To be honest I don’t think [the short-ball strategy] was overly effective out there,” Williamson said. “It was when we changed back to our original plan to put the ball in the right area whilst using the change of length, as the wicket improved a little bit from a batting perspective, is when we were creating more opportunities.
“We tried doing things a little bit differently but the best part of the bowling performance was their ability to put the ball into an area that creates the most opportunity for dismissals like lbws, bowled or caught behind, and we saw that today with the change of lengths to create that.
“Naturally you’re always trying to come up with creative ideas if the wicket does flatten out, but as we saw throughout the whole match, there was enough there to keep you interested. And there wasn’t as much wind as we are used to, so maybe the ball was able to perhaps straighten and make things a little bit challenging.
“In a lot of ways it was really pleasing with the execution in a good area that was most effective part of the bowling performance.”
India struggled to stitch together lower-order partnerships in both their innings, while New Zealand reached 348 in their first innings despite being reduced to 225 for 7 at one stage. The stands at the back end added a lot of value, Williamson said.
“Even the lower-order runs are important to get a bit of a lead because, as we saw, that if you did pick up a wicket, you could take a couple more,” Williamson said in his post-match interview with the broadcasters. “That’s why it’s an all-round team effort. [We] didn’t know what to expect from the pitch on the day before the Test and the morning of [it]. Because it wasn’t as windy this week, there was a bit more swing on offer. The bowlers were brilliant, but overall, a real collective team effort.”
Southee, who finished with a nine-wicket haul and collected the Player-of-the-Match award, also mentioned the relative lack of breeze as having an impact on this Test. “To beat a quality India team was very pleasing,” he said while receiving his award. “[After Australia,] we were back to conditions we were familiar with. The effort from everyone was outstanding.
“Today morning was a massive time in the game. We were trying to get a couple of wickets before the new ball was available because we knew India were trying to get through that period with the set batsmen [Ajinkya Rahane and Hanuma Vihari].
“To take 20 wickets as a bowling unit was very pleasing. The pitch had a little bit more there than usual. It usually gets pretty good [to bat] as the Test goes on, but when the wind goes down you see more swing.”
At the post-match press conference, Southee was asked if it had rankled him to be dropped for the New Year’s Test in Sydney, where New Zealand preferred the less-experienced Matt Henry to him.
“Every time you take the field you’re trying to do your role and do your job for the team,” he said. “You want to play as much as you can and chopping and changing formats is the way international cricket is going. If you play all three you’ve got to learn to park one and move on to the other one.
“I love playing Test cricket and it’s nice to be back out there in the whites with the guys. It’s about looking forward rather than looking back and being able to move on from previous experiences. Just like this one, we’ll enjoy tonight, and our focus will shift to Christchurch. It’s continuing to learn as a cricketer and enjoying every opportunity you get.”