Another shambolic overseas show left India staring down the barrel after the top of their batting order was destroyed by New Zealand’s pace attack on the second day of the first Test, at Eden Park. Having allowed the hosts to pile on 503, a total centered around skipper Brendon McCullum’s swashbuckling 224, MS Dhoni’s team replied the only way they know on foreign shores: by caving in.
Left to contend with 39 overs across two sessions, India were in total disarray on 51/4 before Rohit Sharma, often maligned for his unflattering ‘away’ returns, resurrected them with an unbeaten 67, and had carried them to 130/4 when bad light brought a premature halt to play. The 79-run association between Rohit and Ajinkya Rahane (23 batting) left India needing 174 more to avert the follow on.
India’s beginnings had hinted at a three-day finish to the Test match. In the first over, bowled by Trent Boult, Shikhar Dhawan (0) looked purposefully to the leg-side even as the ball took the leading edge and went precisely where he didn’t want it to: the hands of gully. Three deliveries later, Cheteshwar Pujara (1) chose a most inopportune moment to push at a wide. This time it was wicket-keeper BJ Watling into whose gloves the ball came to rest.
No more than ten minutes had passed when disgust and frustration commingled on the face of Virat Kohli (4), as a scorching Tim Southee bouncer kissed his gloves en route to second slip. Murali Vijay’s resistance ended soon after tea when left-arm paceman Neil Wagner, operating from around the wicket, uprooted his off-stump despite the angle, and also broke a bail in the bargain.
It could have been worse. Rahane was streaky with his edges and survived a close ‘lbw’ call to Boult. But his Mumbai teammate Rohit was rather more authoritative, despatching Wagner for three fours in an over and almost divining the gaps through the off-side. Bad light necessitated the use of spinners by McCullum and Rohit made the most of it by depositing Kane Williamson’s off-spin over long-on. For India to survive, he and Rahane will have to resume in the same vein tomorrow morning, and avoid rashness and lethargy equally proactively.
Earlier, McCullum was eight runs away from a double century, and his team seven wickets down, as Jadeja started the last over to lunch. A steady drizzle had also begun. But Mc Cullum was in no mood to wait around. He stepped out and smacked Jadeja over long-on to reach 198 and slog-swept aerially for another boundary to reach the magic figure, which also made him the highest Kiwi scorer at Eden Park.
What was more significant was that there had been no let up in the procurement of runs while the skipper had chased his landmark. After they resumed on 329/3, New Zealand added 144 in 24 overs in the morning session without resorting to anything special. India’s bowling was devoid of a plan: Zaheer Khan was either short and wide, or too full; Ishant was chugging in and hurling it down the leg-side as if oblivious of the off-side-heavy field. Corey Anderson (overnight 42) got to fifty by threading Ishant for four between slip and gully. A clip to fine-leg brought up the century stand.
The partnership had reached 133 when Ishant picked up the first of his four wickets on Friday, courtesy an umpiring howler. Steve Davis decided that a delivery from around the wicket, which was angled down and bouncing high, was good enough to hit Anderson’s stumps. Ishant’s next scalp was equally gratuitous: a wild Watling slash to third slip off a wide. It was an eventful last hour of the Kiwi innings: Ishant peppered Southee with bouncers and leaked runs.
Dhawan then added a missed run-out chance (Southee’s) to add to his two dropped catches on the first day. Ishant finally got his first five-for in three years when Ish Sodhi nicked him through to second slip. A sixth wicket too was added. McCullum, possibly desperate to overhaul his personal Test best of 225, launched the paceman high over long-on, where Jadeja did a hop out-hop in act at the fence to complete a stunning catch. The wicket wasn’t really engineered by the bowler. But that could be held true for five of the six that Ishant had to his name.
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