Videocon Tri-Series Review

They came, they saw, they conquered – and then they got the heck out of there.

New Zealand’s cricket team completed their almost flawless tour of Zimbabwe with a comfortable six-wicket win against India in the final of the one-day tri-series. Nathan Astle joined an elite member of players in making 115 not out, his 15th one-day century.

For Stephen Fleming’s men it was a chance for redemption, to put the humiliation of the 5-0 drubbing at the hands of the Australians a few months ago behind them.

Right from the first game, it was clear that the Black Caps were head and shoulders above the rest in this tournament. Records fell like rain from the sky against Zimbabwe in Bulawayo, with 397 runs taken off just 44 overs. Lou Vincent posted New Zealand’s highest one-day score of 172 and shared a record 204 run opening stand with Fleming.

Despite Vincent’s heroics, the air of uncertainty regarding New Zealand’s top order batting still remained throughout the tournament. Vincent failed in the next two games, before dropping to number 6 for the final. The partnership of Fleming and Astle, which should never have been broken up, was retained for the final where they ensured the path to victory was an assured one.

India’s left arm pace duo of Irfan Pathan and Ashish Nehra brought the New Zealanders back to reality in the next match, reducing them to 36 for 5. Craig McMillan, Brendon McCullum and Daniel Vettori played sensibly to post 215. Shane Bond then ripped through the Indian top order with a simply stunning display of vociferous fast bowling. He reclaimed New Zealand’s top one-day bowling figures with 6 for 19 – leaving India reeling at 44 for 8 – and effectively out of the contest.

Bond’s fine comeback was a feature of the tournament for New Zealand. If he wasn’t taking wickets, he was bowling very accurately without luck. 11 wickets at 8.63 paint some of the picture; his sheer presence arguably lifted the Black Caps to the level required to win consistently, certainly having a psychological hold on India’s batsmen. Bond was later justifiably named Man of the Series.

Vettori was also in sparkling form with the ball and continued to improve the more he bowled. This was aptly demonstrated in the final, where his subtle variations and superb control was instrumental for New Zealand to take back control of the innings. A high-flying Virender Sehwag chipped to mid-off and Rahul Dravid had a second-ball duck in the same Vettori over. From that point on, wickets fell at regular intervals. Vettori was the unsung hero of the final victory.

Honorable mentions for Brendon McCullum, who showcased his explosive batting ability; Craig McMillan, for playing some key innings when required, and Kyle Mills, who bowled economically without too much success.

On the other foot, the performances of all-rounder Chris Cairns were very disappointing. Lack of match practice after a home winter aside, his bowling looked rusty and was short on pace and rhythm. He batted three times for a highest score of 20. After pulling a hamstring, Cairns was ruled out of the final. With Jacob Oram to assume number one all-rounder status sooner rather than later, questions will remain how long Cairns has to keep performing for the black jersey.

Hamish Marshall was the other major disappointment, with his failures stretching back to the test series. A highest score of 9 tells the whole story – he never got out of first gear. After consistency and success dominated the first chapter of his international career, the inevitable form slump has hit the Northern Districts batsman. No doubt it will shake up any complacency he may have had, and he may well benefit from the experience.

For Zimbabwe, Heath Streak was the shining light in an otherwise shambles of a tournament for the hosts. His dependable medium-fast opening forays provided his team with impetus in the opening stages; how the rest of the bowling unit performed undoubtedly was a considerable factor in Zimbabwe’s failures.

The batting as a unit was largely non-descript. Tatenda Taibu played a couple of good innings, leading the way when others failed. Brendon Taylor looked clueless at the top of the innings; Charles Coventry and Andy Blignaut playing one fine batting effort each. It is the overall consistency that Zimbabwe require if they are to pose any threat to top-class teams. This starts with a stable top-order selection policy.

The biggest disappointment for Indian fans was no doubt the performances of its captain, Sourav Ganguly. There has been some talk of his gradual form slump since early last year, and it simply continued throughout the Videocon Cup. Bond had him on a platter each time they squared off. Ganguly is definitely not the dashing opener he once was. The effort is there – maybe the mind is not?

Sehwag looked threatening without really exploding, his 75 in the final the only innings of note. Mohammad Kaif scored one hundred and two fifties and looked comfortable in the number 3 position. Pathan was their most effective and consistent bowler, finishing with 10 wickets at a healthy average.

For New Zealand, the series went some way to exorcising the demons of the Australian home summer. The return and success of some key personnel took their game to a new level, and they would no doubt be looking forward to the South African challenge in a few months time.

India continued their downward spiral in the shorter version of the game, with questions starting to appear regarding the make-up of their side.

Despite the return of some experienced players, Zimbabwe never really threatened either side and has a long way until they begin to earn international creditability. The sacking of a coach mid-tournament must have certainly not have helped morale.

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