Imagine Harsha Bhogle cheering for Team India as a fan. Impossible, did we hear? Well, our dear cricket enthusiasts, it has happened and how. Harsha, who has been on commentary teams all over the world, has confessed that his “heart still cheers for India.” And, he is “not supposed to be saying this. But it bleeds too”. Is it just us or do you too think that Harsha the fan has added an extra edge to the much-hyped New Zealand tour of India?
From the 2019 World Cup semi-final defeat to the heart-breaking World Test championship loss last year, New Zealand have certainly emerged as India’s nemesis. Bringing back a ton of memories, Harsha, spoke on behalf of innumerable fans and followers, when he said, “It is almost as if quietly they [New Zealand cricket team] have come up and said, ‘You know what? We are New Zealand. We are in your way.’ You wanted to change, didn’t you? I do too.”
The scene is going to be a little different this time. Team India, powered by a young and talented bunch of cricketers, will aim to redeem themselves when they take on New Zealand in the white-ball tour scheduled to kick off on November 18. And, the ‘Men in Blue’ have enough reasons to feel pumped up and change the outcome this time.
New Zealand’s fabled rivalry against India could be traced back to the year 2000. Team India were up against the Kiwis in the final of the Champions Trophy. They pulled off a last-gasp master class to decimate the Indian side.
The Sourav Ganguly-led team had reached the summit clash after getting the better of world champions Australia and defending champions South Africa. However, past records and history do not matter much when you cannot handle the pressure of an electrifying final battle. India failed to defend a decent total of 264 as the Kiwis scored the winning runs in a thrilling fashion in the final over of the contest in Nairobi. New Zealand all-rounder Chris Cairns scored a terrific unbeaten century in the final to guide his side to a remarkable triumph.
Zaheer Khan, who was playing his debut tournament at that point, had conceded 54 runs in that nerve-racking clash. Zaheer, while talking about that game, recalled, “All we had to do was beat New Zealand and the cup was ours. At 132 for five, we thought we had them. But the Kiwis, they never stay down. New Zealand snatched it from us in the last overs. I was shattered.”
But it was just the beginning. As Zaheer quite astutely sums up, “In the last few years it has not been easy for us against New Zealand.”
In 2007, India displayed a brilliant game and lifted the T20 World Cup trophy. But there was one dark spot. India’s juggernaut at the 2007 T20 World Cup was stopped by New Zealand. Harbhajan Singh, an integral member of the World Cup-winning squad, lamented the defeat. “We defeated big names like Australia and South Africa. We got the better of Pakistan twice. But New Zealand would eventually turn out to be the dark horse. We did win the World Cup but that defeat would always remain as a dent,” Harbhajan recalled.
Batting first, the Kiwis had posted a mammoth total of 190. India, during the run chase, fell short by 10 runs.
Team India had got another chance 14 years later to avenge that defeat. But there was no change in the outcome. India endured a crushing eight-wicket defeat at the hands of New Zealand at the 2021 T20 World Cup.
The story has been similar in Tests as well. In the inaugural edition of the World Test Championship, the two teams once again met in the final. The Kane Williamson-led side had emerged victorious in that contest with a convincing margin of eight wickets.
And, how could one forget MS Dhoni getting run out in the 2019 World Cup semi-finals? The former India skipper did put up a resistance and scored a half-century in that game but it was not enough to avoid the World Cup exit.
Though, now there is a ray of hope for Team India ahead of the first T20I against New Zealand. India would want to take a cue from their last series against the Kiwis in order to motivate the young brigade. In their last T20I series, India whitewashed New Zealand 3-0 in 2021.
Hardik Pandya will be leading India in the T20Is and veteran batter Shikhar Dhawan will handle the leadership duties in the fifty-over format. In absence of big names like Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma, the onus will certainly be on India’s very own “Mr 360” - Suryakumar Yadav.
The young Indian cricketers, on the other hand, will be eager to cement their spot in the squad. But there is a lot more at stake. For these young talents, it will be a golden chance to break the New Zealand jinx and register their names in the record books.
Catch the T20Is on 18th, 20th and 22nd November beginning 11 am, and ODIs on 25th, 27th and 30th November beginning 6 am, only on Prime Video.
This is a Partnered Post.