New Zealand unscathed and well in the ascendancy

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safari
28 Feb 2020 | 10:16 PM
authorSomesh Agarwal

New Zealand unscathed and well in the ascendancy

Day one: India lost the plot after losing five wickets for 22 runs either side of Tea

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Evening Session

End of day’s play – New Zealand 63/0 (23 overs, trail by 179 runs)

After a see-saw first couple of sessions, the last session has put New Zealand distinctly ahead on the first day. Post dismissing India for a modest 242, the Kiwi openers – The Toms – Latham and Blundell blunted out India’s pace attack and stitched a half-century partnership for themselves. Playing 23 overs without being separated, this is now the longest opening stand against India in terms of balls played since 2019 (beating 132-ball stand between Usman Khawaja and Marcus Harris in Sydney in January last year)

Sharing the new ball, Jasprit Bumrah and Umesh Yadav erred on the leg side far too often that ensured constant rotation of strike. While the green top offered some assistance to the Kiwi pacers, the ball did too little for India’s trio. 

The two batsmen shared responsibility of scoring, hitting four boundaries each. Blundell started first, hitting through covers on full balls and pulling with disdain on the short stuff. Latham then caught up, hitting two glorious boundaries either side of mid-off in a Mohammed Shami over.   

Struggling to build any pressure, the four Indian bowlers – with Ravindra Jadeja bowling just one over – bowled just one maiden apiece. The openers ran well and Blundell specifically stole singles early on in the innings making full use of the left-right combination.

Failing to make an early impact with both facets of the game, India need their pacers to create something for them on the second day. 

Innings Break – India 242/10 (63 overs)

The story of India’s batting line-up experiencing a suicidal passage against New Zealand continues to throw up sequels. At the stroke of Tea until the sixth over after the break, India lost five wickets for just 22 runs. 

The last wicket-stand between Bumrah and Shami counterattacked and added 26 runs to swell the total to a face-saving figure.

Similar to India’s start in the second session, India lost a wicket early on post Tea. A lapse in concentration or just playing out of character, Cheteshwar Pujara top-edged an uncharacteristic pull shot off Kyle Jamieson and could not cross even the inner circle.

India’s first-choice overseas wicket-keeper, Rishabh Pant, technically lost his wicket thrice during his stay of 14 balls. Reprieved by Colin de Grandhomme and BJ Watling, Pant continued to be tentative and was played on off Jamieson.

Ravindra Jadeja threatened with two fours in a Trent Boult over but was Jamieson’s fourth victim as he top-edged a short ball to fine leg. The tall Canterbury lad completed his maiden five-for after Yadav nicked one to Watling in the same over.

Afternoon Session

Tea – India 194/5 (53.4 Overs)

The game hangs in the balance on the first day after a session full of punch-counter punch. Getting lifeline on 9, Hanuma Vihari appeared out of sorts, tentative in his feet movement, until he unleashed a solid cover drive off de Grandhomme on the 39th ball he faced. Vihari then collected 33 runs in the next 31 balls, completing his half-century in the process. 

Increasing in confidence, Vihari hit Bout for three boundaries in the over, two assured, one streaky. The battle of the session was between him and Neil Wagner. Uninhibited to Wagner’s antics, Vihari went in an all-out attack mode, looking to score on every ball he faced. In a fresh approach to play Wagner, the Andhra lad, moved to the leg side to slash the left-armer twice for a boundary to the third-man fence. 

Just when the session was turning to India’s favour, Vihari played one short too many and gloved a pull to Watling who held it to redeem himself. Wagner let his delight after a built-up frustration out with a loud roar that marked the end of the session.

During the lunch interval, clouds gathered over the Hagley Oval. The Kiwi skipper put his faith on his two best-men. The result - the good work done by India’s batsmen, specifically Prithvi Shaw, in the first session was wiped out in the first half of the second session.

To redeem himself completely, Tim Southee, bowled a six-over spell after lunch. Bowling three back to back maidens, he dismissed Virat Kohli on the first ball of his spell. Kohli positioned himself to play a full delivery that appeared moving away. To his horror, the ball jabbed back into him after hitting the seam hitting the Indian skipper right in front. To make matters worse, Kohli opted to review a plumb LBW decision.

Ajinkya Rahane, who averages around 6 against Southee countered him well, to begin with. Showing good judgement to most of the 27 balls he faced, he tried to defend the first ball of Southee’s fifth over of the spell. The ball, an outswinger, took his outside edge and gulped by Ross Taylor at first slip.

Pujara, visibly more purposeful in this innings, added 32 runs in 50 balls in the first half of the second session before reaching his 25th Test fifty. Waiting for the attempted full balls, Pujara worked the bowlers on the leg side with control to collect five couples in that region. In the third over of his spell, Pujara hit Trent Boult for back to back boundaries. Post drinks, Pujara went back into his defensive mode happily enjoying Vihari’s innings. 

Getting a lucky break in the first session, Kyle Jamieson was the most unlucky of the Kiwi bowlers. Deploying a strategy to test the batsmen with a fullish ball after softening them up with a couple of bouncers, the 6’8” tall pacer, induced an edge off Vihari who was tentative on the first 35 or so balls he faced. To a catch that was carrying easily to first slip, Watling dived to his left but could not hang on.

Morning Session

Lunch- India 85/2 (23 Overs)

With the lacklustre batting effort in the first Test fresh in memory, pundits would not have given India generous odds as they went out to bat on a green top in the second Test. However, scoring at 3.7 runs per over with only two wickets in the first session, India have seized the early initiative. 

Kohli’s call for an aggressive intent has resonated well with Shaw. Reminiscent to India’s stroke-makers of the yesteryears, Shaw was decisive with his footwork and his leaves outside off stump, while missing no opportunity to pinch a quick single. 

On a grassy track, the Indian opener, helped partly by not much swing movement, due to clear weather and partly by wayward bowling by the Kiwi bowlers, especially Southee, scored 54 off just 64 balls. Unlike the first Test when Southee was at the right channel straight away, he sprayed the ball on the leg side on a fuller length too often. Shaw hit him for a gorgeous on-drive and an even better straight drive on two of these deliveries. 

Shaw’s approach to Southee was even noteworthy as the Mumbai lad was proactive in getting his weight forward on the drives, unlike the first Test that led to his downfall. Playing with a clear mind, Shaw was quick to rock back on the back foot to unleash his punches whenever an opportunity arose. 

Not letting New Zealand use de Grandhomme to stem the flow of runs, Shaw made full use of his slower pace to thump three boundaries.

Brought into the attack earlier than expected, Wagner went for his Plan-A straight away. Ready to take him on, Shaw hooked his second ball over the fine-leg fielder to reach his maiden half-century in overseas conditions.

A spectacular fielding effort helped New Zealand pull the game back. An attempted drive to Jamieson caught the outside edge of Shaw’s bat. Just as it appeared to have flown over the slip cordon, Tom Latham, at second slip, jumped and plucked it out of thin air into his left palm.

Earlier, after a disappointing half an hour, Boult, the pick of the Kiwi bowlers in the first session, brought the home side back in the game. Bowling a testing over to Mayank Agarwal, testing him on out-wingers, Boult brought one back into Mayank, to which the right-hander went too far across and was caught in front. India lost their review too on his dismissal.

Pujara, in at three, started with caution as expected but soon started using his willow to play out of character and try a few shots. First throwing his bat on a full ball outside off from Boult, mistiming it but pinching a couple. The second was a marked improvement against the same bowler. A full ball on this occasion went past the mid-off fielder into the boundary.

Kohli, in at four, started aggressively, flicking the first ball he faced to collect three but displayed immaculate judgement around his off-stump to defend and leave. As a platform is laid, the senior men will now hope to dig in to put up a healthy first innings total.

Toss

Kohli's fortunes with the toss cease to change. On a pitch that is not a lot different in colour from the outfield itself, Kohli called incorrectly and Kane Williamson gleefully opted to bowl. Hulking up their pace attack further, New Zealand have replaced Ajaz Patel with Wagner, fielding an all-pace attack. 

India, hampered by the injury to Ishant Sharma, have gone the conservative way. Umesh Yadav replaced Ishant while Jadeja came in for Ravichandran Ashwin. Navdeep Saini was another pace option that India had in their squad but, as Kohli mentioned at the toss, they decided to go for Jadeja's lower-order batting prowess and control with the ball.

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IndiaNew ZealandPrithvi Pankaj ShawCheteshwar Arvind PujaraGade Hanuma VihariThomas William Maxwell LathamThomas Ackland BlundellKyle Alex Jamieson

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