A day of courage and controversy yielded a dramatic win for New Zealand in the first Test as the hosts ousted India by 40 runs at Eden Park, here. In keeping with what had gone past, Sunday was marked by serial shifts in momentum. The game first swung towards India, thanks to a big partnership between centurion Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli, then shifted to the hosts, courtesy of left-arm fast bowler Neil Wagner and the second new ball, and then slithered India’s way again as skipper MS Dhoni and his protégé Ravindra Jadeja brought their immense limited-overs skills into the Test arena.
When it practically ended, on the back of an umpiring oversight that sent Dhoni packing, the match had seen it all: an attacking double-hundred, a heinous batting collapse, jaw-dropping fielding, a back-to-the-wall century, a fast bowler with a big heart, and a spate of poor decisions, which, if it may be added, doesn’t include Brendon McCullum’s call for not enforcing the follow on.
It was really New Zealand’s capitulation in their second innings on Saturday - when they were shot out for 105 - that opened up a Test that had appeared irrevocably shut to India after the visitors had conceded a first innings lead of 301. Wagner delivered four wickets to his side (including the big ones of Dhawan, Kohli and Dhoni) picking one up every time India seemed to be getting away.
In the sixth over of the morning, Tim Southee drew first blood by slanting in a bouncer at the overnight batsman Cheteshwar Pujara (23) that shaped away late to take the edge of the bat. Kohli joined his Delhi teammate, Dhawan, who was resuming a run away from his first fifty since his sensational debut hundred at Mohali last year. The pair added 126 in 31.3 overs in an intelligent partnership, first seeing off the threat of Southee and Trent Boult, then upping the scoring rate when the aging ball was thrown to leggie Ish Sodhi and part-timer Kane Williamson.
Kohli was not quite in his element. He shouldered arms to a Southee delivery that whistled dangerously past the off-stump. An aerial push off Wagner went right between the two specially placed short covers. It was Sodhi with his freebie full-tosses and half-volleys who allowed India to break free. He conceded three boundaries to Kohli in an over, and then, after lunch, 18 runs to Dhawan in another. A six lofted over long-on took the mustachioed opener to 99. A vicious cut later, Dhawan was on his second overall and first overseas Test century. With just 185 needed, India were in the ascendance.
AGAINST THE RUN OF PLAY
Kohli got out against the run of play as a mini slide saw India lose four for 48. Having top-edged a Southee bouncer over the slip cordon in the previous over, he bottom-edged a Wagner wide ball to the wicket-keeper. With six more overs to go for the second new ball, Wagner excised Dhawan with a deadly bouncer that the batsman could only glove to wicket-keeper BJ Watling.
Ajinkya Rahane looked fluid in his 18 before he got a howler with the new ball. The Mumbai youngster was nailed in front by a gorgeous Boult inswinger, but his thick inside edge was not picked up by the umpire. Tea was taken with India requiring 137 more, five wickets intact, and two new batsmen – Rohit Sharma and Dhoni – in the middle. Sharma (19) nicked Southee to the ‘keeper on the first ball after tea, which brought out Jadeja. And then began the fireworks.
The Chennai Super Kings followed their Chepauk modus operandi at Eden Park as they gathered 54 runs in a little above five overs. Jadeja was downright cruel as he moved about the crease and spanked Southee for boundaries. Boult was slapped for a six down the ground. Just when it appeared that the pair would see India home – the side needed 83 more – the southpaw holed out to mid-on.
Dhoni was now left with the tail. Zaheer Khan helped his skipper out with a couple of hefty blows, before perishing to a Wagner delivery that was too good for him. The Indian captain was ninth out, deceived by Wagner’s slow bouncer that he bottom-edged on to the stumps. Replays indicated that the bowler may have stepped on to the side crease before delivering, but that didn’t matter. The deed was done. Dhoni had marched off. Ishant Sharma had walked in. All the lanky No.11 could do was chop off four runs from India’s margin of defeat before Boult bounced him out.
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