Dhoni eyes series
In the end it didn't seem like it had been 33 years in coming. The Indian team hadn't lined up at the picket fence waiting for the winning runs nor did they rush onto the field to soak up what they hadn't experienced on several previous tours -- a Test win in New Zealand.
When Gautam Gambhir pulled Kyle Mills to seal the 10-wicket win, he looked towards the dressing room, clenched a fist, took one of the stumps as souvenir and shook hands with the bowler. And then, he and Dravid went off. There were handshakes and hugs in the Indian camp, before Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the captain, and Sachin Tendulkar, the man-of-the-match, went off for the presentation at the indoors nets. A mandatory press conference for Dhoni followed, after which the team assembled in the dressing room, leaving after a while.
Quite a different feel from when India won at the Wanderers in 2006-07. The team celebrated long and hard then, with famous TV shots of cola being poured over each other, for at least 15 minutes after the match finished. At a time when every small achievement is hailed as a big success and New Zealand is viewed as a Final Frontier (even though India have lost their last series in Australia, South Africa and Sri Lanka), it was almost surreal to see them take this Test win for what it is: a clinical, ruthless performance against a side ranked No. 8 in the world and struggling because of sudden retirements of many senior players. The absence of such characters as Shanthakumaran Sreesanth and Andre Nel, and Andrew Symonds has helped.
The contrast in celebrations shows how far the team has come. The Wanderers win, even the one in Perth last year, was an unexpected outcome. Hence a more pronounced release. But India came to New Zealand expecting a series win and barely exceeded their expectations in the first Test.
India led from the first session onwards, and kept taking the game away from New Zealand, at times slowly (as in the batting of Gambhir and Dravid), and at times swiftly (Sachin Tendulkar's batting on day three). A Wall Street regular would be proud of how the deal was closed at the Seddon Park. In terms of comprehensiveness, this win stands next to how India beat Australia in Mohali last year -- winning every session, every hour of the game.
Was the team surprised at how easily the landmark win came? "It's not about getting surprised," MS Dhoni said. "That's what you want your team to do. To get the opposition out cheaply. Our bowlers' effort was great. I felt there was not much for the bowlers after that first session. Those couple of hours -- that was the time there was something in the wicket. After that, it was just great effort, grit and determination. Spell after spell they were eager to bowl, they maintained the ball well, they bowled in right areas, and created opportunities. Whether New Zealand didn't perform up to the mark, as an opposition team you want them to do that." More ruthless words are rarely spoken.
But Dhoni can afford to sound detached because he has not suffered the pain of losses in New Zealand, especially since India were regarded one of the best batting line-ups in the world. The likes of Tendulkar, Dravid and VVS Laxman have endured that humiliation.
Dhoni felt nothing less than a series win would satisfy the Indians. "It's a great feeling, especially for guys who whose careers have spanned more than 10 years," he said. "They have played at most of the venues all over the world, and if it's the first win for them, it can't get better. But hopefully if we can win the series it will be great. One of the first milestones we have achieved is to take the lead, now it's important to play the same kind of cricket in the second and third game. Let's hope we win the series and that will be the best gift we can give to them [the seniors]."