White Ferns celebrating. ©Getty Images

New Zealand were slow out of the blocks, poor with both bat and ball and quite muddled in their approach through the first two ODIs of their three-match series against India. They just didn’t ‘turn up’. Like good hosts (athithi devo bhavah and all that) they allowed India to build their confidence early in the series – feeding Jemimah Rodrigues her favoured cover drive and Smriti Mandhana a good serving of half-trackers in the first game, and allowing the Indian spinners to dictate terms in the second match – before finally showing the aggression that they are well known for. With India having sealed the series, the hosts put on a dominant display to salvage an important (and face-saving) eight-wicket win in the third and final ODI at Seddon Park in Hamilton on Friday (February 1).

 

Coming in to the series, India were somewhat fighting against the odds. After all, it was their first series in the country since 2006, only two of their players had previous experience of having played there, and they were under the guidance of a new coach. They were expected to be fighting the conditions as much as they were the opposition. No one could have predicted the two thrashings they handed out in Napier and Mount Maunganui – especially against a team that was supposed to be very, very good at home. (Only Australia and England had ever challenged New Zealand’s dominance in a bilateral series at home).

 

In the first ODI in Napier, as Mandhana and Rodrigues feasted on the New Zealand bowling attack in their record-breaking 190-run stand, Jacob Oram, the home team’s bowling coach, watched from the sidelines. During a conversation with the commentators, Oram spoke of the need to adapt to conditions and formulate good plans. He mentioned the (possible) effectiveness of the short ball as well, but New Zealand looked unwilling to use it.

 

In the second ODI at Mount Maunganui, Suzie Bates talked about how the New Zealand batters needed to be more proactive against (read, “take on”) the Indian spinners. They hesitated to use their feet, were unsure of playing the sweep shot and also weren’t able to pick length very well. Only Amy Satterthwaite was comfortable against the visitors’ slower bowlers. So comfortable, in fact, that she hit Deepti Sharma out of the attack, not once, but twice – using the sweep shot to good effect, forcing Deepti to shorten the length, and then unveiling the pull.

 

It was the way they should have played them from the start, but the rest of the line-up didn’t look confident enough to pull it off.

 

In the third ODI in Hamilton, with nothing but that much talked about “pride” (and two ICC Championship points) on the line, a different New Zealand made an appearance. They had their tails up, were aggressive from the very start, and seemed to have clear (and very specific) plans in place. They were done talking the talk, now it was time to walk the walk.

 

Case 1: The Mandhana dismissal

Mandhana’s troubles against offspinners are well known. She has a tendency to stay slightly leg-side of the ball when a right-arm off-spinner bowls over the wicket. It is a tactic (or habit) that allows her to open up the off-side and hit (safely) with the spin over mid-off or extra-cover. She plays this shot as well as anyone.

 

In the previous ODI, Anna Peterson, who took the new ball for New Zealand, bowled over the wicket to Mandhana. Although the left-hander remained unbeaten, she didn’t look entirely comfortable through the offspinner’s first spell. On Friday, Peterson came from around the wicket, in an attempt to cramp Madhana for room, and not give her easy access the off-side. The left-hander, who had been kept off strike for the better part of four overs (including two overs on the trot) looked like she wanted to get on with the game. 

 

Result: A somewhat frustrated, top-edged slog sweep taken neatly by Sophie Devine at mid-wicket.

 

Case 2: Rodrigues (kind of) bounced out

Lea Tahuhu is New Zealand’s strike bowler. (She nudges 124 kph). She is expected to take wickets early, even if it means she is a tad expensive. In the first two matches of the series, Tahuhu was rather conservative because New Zealand didn’t have enough runs on the board.

 

Early in the series, New Zealand bowled very full to Rodrigues. They allowed her to get on the front foot and drive on the up. She batted well out of her crease – even to Tahuhu – and not once did New Zealand try to push her back.

 

On Friday, however, Tahuhu ripped a bouncer past Rodrigues in her second over. 

 

Result: Rodrigues, who was until then standing a good foot out side the crease, decided to drop back.

 

After that, the right-hander was almost waiting for the short ball, which meant her weight was going back, rather than in to her shots…That led to her downfall – a half-hearted, almost ‘get-away-from-me’ pull shot pouched easily by Amelia Kerr at mid-wicket.

 

Case 3: Kaur not allowed to break free

The last time Harmanpreet Kaur batted against New Zealand, she took the bowlers to the cleaners. It was one of the most ferocious displays of hitting in the women’s game. Kaur’s century in Guyana during the T20 World Cup was marked by the way she used her feet, hit with the wind and cleared the ground with ease. The New Zealand spinners floated the ball into her half, and she launched into her shots without holding back.

 

Peterson played in that game, but didn’t bowl a ball.

 

On Friday, Kaur was rarely given an opportunity to step out against the spinners. They held the ball back, bowled quicker and flatter, pushing Kaur on the back foot, refusing to pitch it in her half. She was not allowed to hit down the ground, and instead collected most of her runs square of the wicket. 

 

Result: 39 balls into her innings, a clearly frustrated Kaur advanced down the track to Peterson swiping at a delivery that was not in her range. She was beaten on the inside edge – the ball clattering into off stump.

 

Once the hosts had India under the pump, they refused to let go. Through the game Satterthwaite kept the squeeze on with attacking fields, and cut off the easy singles. The bowlers executed their plans brilliantly and were ably backed up by the fielders.

 

It was an attacking approach that New Zealand carried in to their batting as well – an intent made clear by Lauren Down in the fourth over of the innings when she launched a slow, wide delivery (the kind that got her out on Tuesday) from Ekta Bisht into the long-on stand. New Zealand were not going to let the Indian spinners settle, they had made that mistake enough.

 

After the (unlucky) dismissal of Down, Bates, Satterthwaite and later, Sophie Devine bludgeoned the Indian spinners over the rope, and through the field. They were not afraid to advance down the track, jump on the back foot or manipulate the ball into vacant areas (read, Bates trying to lap sweep Deepti and Poonam Yadav to fine leg). They showed that they had learnt from the previous losses, and intended to improve. They showed that they no longer wanted to die wondering and were willing to take the game on. Of course, it probably helped that they were chasing a relatively small target, but they made sure to do it with aplomb.

 

The New Zealand that turned up at Seddon Park was the New Zealand India expected to face through the series. They were confident, aggressive and executed their plans to a T. Their win in the final ODI may have taken a bit of sheen off India’s first bilateral series win in the country, but it will give them a lot of confidence going into the T20I series next week. They have given themselves a good (read, successful) blueprint to work with, and India will certainly be wary.

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