Christchurch: The depth in New Zealand’s five-man seam attack pulled India back from positions of strength on two occasions to leave them bowled out for 242; their openers knocked 63 off that total by stumps. While Kyle Jamison starred with a maiden five-for, the other three pacers contributed too: Trent Boult took the first wicket, Tim Southee sent Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane back, and Neil Wagner’s short-pitched bowling broke India’s biggest stand of the series.
At 63 overs, India’s innings was shorter than either of their digs in Wellington but, thanks to more positive intent and a quicker pitch, they ended up with a bigger score. And yet they will be disappointed that despite three fifties from their specialist batsmen, despite lives through dropped catches, they ended up with the third-lowest Test total in an innings.
On an individual level, there was improvement as all three half-centurions made technical or mindset adjustments after Wellington. Out of sorts with lack of footwork and struggling against the short ball Prithvi Shaw got his front foot moving and scored a 64-ball 54 to give India a rollicking start. Two men in the spotlight for their slow going in Wellington and their captain’s subsequent remarks about intent, Cheteshwar Pujara and Hanuma Vihari batted with urgency and purpose in their half-centuries, but aggression got the better of both with the team score in the 190s as India lost their last six wickets for 48 runs.
Asked to bat once again, India had a tough job in the morning after a delayed start because of an early-morning drizzle. Shaw, though, went on to show that conditions in New Zealand can look tougher than they are. His forward movement allowed him to track the swing, and his instinctive positive batting remained intact. As a result, Southee in particular couldn’t bowl the really full swinging ball, and Shaw made merry every time Southee pitched even slightly short of a good length.
Boult, though, brought New Zealand some cheer by setting up Mayank Agarwal by moving the first four balls of the sixth over out, in, out and in. Pujara showed he was mindful of his attitude to loose deliveries after he was guilty of not always taking advantage of them in Wellington. To the 13th ball he faced, a full wide one, he threw his hands, ending up slicing it over point. Shaw at the other end made sure Colin de Grandhomme, first-change bowler, couldn’t achieve a repeat of Wellington where he bowled at under two an over.
As early as the 19th over, New Zealand went to Wagner and his short-pitched bowling, which nearly brought immediate benefit. Shaw hooked the second ball from Wagner, top-edging it just over the tallest man on the field, Jamieson, at fine leg. That brought up his fifty, a credit to him and the support staff that they could figure a way out of his Wellington issues in one net session between the Tests. Minutes before lunch, though, Shaw had a drive at a full wide one from Jamieson, falling to an acrobatic catch by Tom Latham at second slip.
Kohli had tense few minutes to survive before lunch, and Williamson immediately went to Southee. Before lunch, Southee kept dragging Kohli across with outswing outside off before bowling the perfect delivery immediately after lunch. This was an outswinger just outside off, but it seamed back in upon pitching and hit him in front, leaving Kohli no chance.
While Pujara had now begun driving well, and timing them instead of punching them, Rahane committed a mental error in Southee’s fifth over after lunch. Just visually, Rahane has looked the most comfortable of India’s batsmen on tour, defending late and playing under his head, but this time he was drawn to defend in front of his body, and the outswinger took the edge. When Jamieson pushed Vihari back, hit him on the finger, and then drew an edge to a full one, 80 for 1 was all set to become 134 for 5. Except that BJ Watling dived in front of first slip, and managed to get only fingertips to it.
Pujara and Vihari then batted freely, especially against Boult, which meant New Zealand went to plan B in the afternoon. Wagner kept the batsmen honest with a seven-over spell for just eight runs, mixing the bouncers and knuckle balls, nearly getting Pujara with one. But India didn’t allow de Grandhomme to settle, which meant the run rate remained healthy. However, just before tea, Wagner did his job. Having had enough of his bouncers, Vihari decided to take Wagner on in a fresh spell. He kept a pull down, upper-cut him for a four, drove a knuckle ball, but to what turned out to be the last ball before tea he managed only a glove through to Watling.
Just after tea, Pujara went to hook the tallest bowler in the opposition, managing only a top edge to a ball not that short. At the other end, de Grandhomme and Watling reprieved Rishabh Pant in successive deliveries, but the uncertainty that Jamieson’s height brings got the better of him in the next over. Pant pushed at a length ball outside off, but his feet remain rooted, thus producing a played-on dismissal.
Umesh Yadav was no match to Jamieson, and Ravindra Jadeja – selected ahead of R Ashwin for his batting – top-edged another short ball to give Jamieson the five-for. A 26-run roulette for the last wicket took India to 242, but the bowlers sans Ishant Sharma had a big task.
In the 23 overs before stumps, India kept the batsmen honest, but couldn’t produce an opportunity that would go to hand. Tom Blundell and Latham batted watchfully, respecting the good balls and then cashing on the odd loose ones. They will hope the loose ones will increase in number if they can keep India on the field for a long time on day two.
Brief Scores: New Zealand 63 for 0 trail India 242 (Vihari 55, Shaw 54, Pujara 54, Jamieson 5-45) by 179 runs