Teams seldom compete in India after losing the toss. Since the turn of the last decade, India, at home, have won the toss and batted first 23 times. Of those 23 instances, only thrice have they conceded a first innings lead.
On flat pitches, India’s template is simple: to post a gigantic first innings score, run the bowlers down to the ground, demoralize the opposition and essentially make the opponent play for survival for the rest of the match.
On rank turners, they back their batters to get to a par or above-par score, knowing very well that they have a spin-attack that is impregnable.
After winning the toss on this Kanpur wicket that leans more towards ‘flat’ than ‘rank turner’, India would no doubt have envisioned the first ploy - to morally crush the opponent by stumps on Day 2.
That is what they would have definitely had in mind when Shreyas Iyer and Ravindra Jadeja walked in to bat to the backdrop of heavy fog at 9:30 am in the morning, batting on 75* and 50* respectively, with the score already over 250.
Get to 450 minimum, 500 if possible, and then bombard the tired Kiwi batters with spin in the final session.
It is to New Zealand’s full credit, though, that it is India who will have to re-think their plans when they take to the field in about 15 hours’ time.
Through a perfect day, the Kiwis have turned this contest around and have put themselves in prime position to become the first team since Australia in 2017 (Bangalore) to take a first innings lead in India after losing the toss.
It is only fitting that this turnaround has been inspired by an all-time-great performance from one of the country’s all-time-greats.
New Zealand could very well go on to lose this Test, after which Southee’s five-fer today might unfortunately become a mere footnote. But make no mistake, what we witnessed in the morning today was greatness.
Consider this: since the turn of this century, there have been 180 instances of seamers bowling in the first innings against India (in India) after losing the toss. And yet the five-fer by Southee today was just the fourth ever instance of a fast-bowler taking five or more wickets under the aforementioned circumstance.
One of those four instances was when Dale Steyn, arguably the greatest ever overseas fast-bowler to have set foot in Asia, blew India away in Ahmedabad 13 years ago by taking 5/23 and bowling them out for 76.
Southee’s spell today was not as devastating, but it was craftsmanship of the highest order.
The Iyer wicket was a gift but each of his other three wickets on the day were the product of pure genius.
He kept trying to bowl the ‘perfect ball’ to Jadeja until he eventually did and then set-up Saha by bowling a bunch of inswingers before going wide of the crease and delivering the wicked away-swinger. He then repeated the same process versus Axar, against whom he came from around the wicket and bombarded him with inswingers before getting one to pitch and leave the bat.
It is one thing doing all this away in India when you’re under the pump, but Southee pulled it off while watching his partner, Jamieson, get carted (0/29 off his first 4 overs today) at the other end.
Not to mention, he did it whilst not being fully fit. There was a point on Day 1 where Southee was barely able to move after sustaining a groin strain, yet he showed up on Day 2 and casually produced an all-time-great spell.
He truly now is a world-class veteran at the absolute peak of his powers.
But while the spell from Southee kept New Zealand in the game, the Kiwis find themselves in a position of strength only because they were able to back up what he did.
Almost poetically, the magic of the old guard with the ball was, with the bat, backed up by a greenhorn who was Young. Quite literally.
Not often do you see India, at home, pick no wickets across 57 overs after winning the toss and putting up a total on the board, but such was the application shown by the New Zealand openers. And while both the openers brought up half-centuries, it was the innings of Will Young that stood out.
If not for the broken hand to Devon Conway, Young wouldn’t have been here in the first place. But he batted like a man who should have been the first pick in the XI.
48 of Young’s 75 runs on the day came via boundaries. But more than the strokemaking, it was the right-hander’s assurance that set him apart.
Batters, particularly rookies with little experience, tend to hesitate trusting their defence in the subcontinent, upon sighting inconsistent bounce and sharp turn. But Young showed full faith in his technique and defended a staggering 72.8% of the balls he faced, the highest figure for any batter across the first two days.
His wagon-wheel may look mighty impressive - runs in all parts of the ground - but it was his solidity that ruffled the bowlers’ patience and forced them to err. To his credit, he made the most out of it by punishing all bad balls.
For Young, Southee and New Zealand, perfection was what Day 2 was, but the Kiwis will know very well that they will need three more such days to even compete.
There's a reason why India have lost just two Tests at home in the last 8 years, none after winning the toss. Williamson will be hoping to not find out why.