It may seem ironic and at the same time, easy to overlook that India lost the Twenty20 series to New Zealand in light of the fact that the tour down under has been, for the most part, a resounding success.
Indeed India’s tour of Australia was an unprecedented success, particularly in the arena of Test cricket as India vanquished the hosts 2-1 in the four Test series. That India’s overseas Test series win in Australia came after seven decades of touring the Southern Hemisphere nation speaks for itself. It was certainly a sparkling feather in Virat Kohli’s cap and poignant that this win came on the soil where he first took over the captaincy officially from Mahendra Singh Dhoni in 2014 in the context of Test cricket.
Arriving in New Zealand on the back of the rather rigourous, emotionally high tour of Australia for the limited overs series, even as New Zealand presented themselves as World Cup ready, India proved to be an easier ride for the first half of the tour anyway with regard to the one day internationals. Midway through, however, India appeared to have lost their edge and perhaps their steam without some of their more regular players on show. Although the series was much closer than just by going by the score line, the truth of the matter is that New Zealand were exposed as being not quite ready yet for the robust battles for the World Cup. And given the fact that India boast of Twenty20’s greatest platform of commercial value, the Indian Premier League, on paper anyway, it is a little bit worrisome to think India went off the rails a little bit when they should have hammered in the final nail in the coffin.
It is easy to dismiss the loss in the Twenty20 series as something that came on the back of a huge tour and followed the stupendous Test series win, it speaks to something of being professional as well as being diligent, as well as somewhat perhaps rudderless without their premier batsman and captain, Virat Kohli, who was rested and eventually returned home. Given the amount of Twenty20 that the Indian cricketers play and given the fact that the formats have seen different composition of players, it is hard to attribute the attritional effect of a long, heavily contested tour to relatively fresh faced players for whom this format is presently their bread and butter.
It is, also, easy to shove this loss aside as a one-off and immaterial in the context of the phenomenally heavy Test cricket season that is on its way out and the ICC Cricket World Cup that is increasingly looming large. However, given the amount of time teams get to play these tours and series against varying opponents, and some of these players who do not play all formats are relegated to the IPL in the absence of international commitments, with a packed schedule, the next World Twenty20 is not that far around the corner. Despite the tremendous tour, India must keep their eye on their victories as well as their defeats, even if they appear narrow and/or presently inconsequential.
It is not an uncommon scenario around the world when the tour gets to the end, that teams treat some matches and tourneys almost like dead rubber events. But for teams looking to scale the top and stay there, every match gains significant learning experience if not consistency of wins.