Christchurch, March 3: The latest ICC Rankings for Test teams show India as the top team with 116 rating points, six more than second-placed New Zealand. But is the Virat Kohli-led side currently the best Test nation? An illogical question, isn't it? But a 0-2 defeat against the Kiwis made it relevant than ever.
Let's take a quick look back at the Test series. India failed to cross 200 in both the innings and lost by 10 wickets at Wellington, where the pitch was rated as 'soft'. Christchurch was expected to be different - a harder surface that allows the ball to come on to the bat quickly, giving more freedom to the batsmen to play their shots.
Indian bowlers too were expected to benefit from the pitch as they had encountered similar ones in Australia and South Africa. Of course, there were pockets of fights - when the bowlers helped India secure a 7-run lead or when they reached 194 for 4 in the first innings. But India, who now view every tour abroad as an opportunity to build their legacy, failed to clinch any of those moments. Result: A 7-wicket loss.
It was not so much the defeat that rankled but the lack of fight that left everyone disappointed. As the No 1 side, India were expected to discover a way to surmount those challenges the conditions in New Zealand would present. India had shown it in Australia when they clinched a historic series triumph in 2018-2019.
Kohli and Ravi Shastri rated that triumph as a baby step to bigger things to come and then came a plethora of victories against the West Indies, South Africa, a really weakened side now courtesy retirement of some titans, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Australia at home in all three formats. To give credit where it due, India had begun this New Zealand series with a resounding 5-0 win in the T20Is before the slide began.
Like the earlier tours to England and South Africa which began with the label of 'best chance for us', this Test series against New Zealand too carried that tag. The optimism heightened by the drubbing Australia handed to the Kiwis in December-January. But the New Zealand at home is a different beast and they are unbeaten in their own turf since 2017, much like India in that sense.
India, perhaps, discounted that fact. Perhaps, the string of victories at home had created a bubble of comfort in their minds - that feeling of invincibility which leaves a painful crevice inside of you when cracked. In the Test series, they went through a collective failure, there was not even a single performance that will remember in memory.
Imagine, the highest aggregate by an Indian batsman in the series was 102 runs, Mayank Agarwal made them at 25.50. Kohli amassed just 38 runs, six less than Mohammed Shami. In fact, Shami's highest of 21 was higher than Kohli's highest in this series - 19. Now, where do you rank such an effort?
It may rank alongside India's disappointing trips to South Africa and England in 2018 where they could not find a way to land the decisive blow. But on those travels, India were competitive, something which is still being highlighted by the Indian team management. But here the fight was missing. Now, those theoreticians can even more vehemently attribute India's series win over Australia to the absence of Steve Smith and David Warner.
So, what lies ahead for them? A three-match ODI series against South Africa and IPL 2020 is closest on the radar, but will this debacle be forgotten? Kohli gave a peek.
"The thing to take away from here is to not shy away from things that have gone wrong. Instead, address them straight up, and not be in denial. Accept there were mistakes, and correct them going forward because we do have a lot of cricket away from homecoming this season as well. It is something we are optimistic about, and looking forward to," said Kohli.
Acceptance of mistake is certainly a good sign.