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500th Test: Kiwis pitch it right, call the shots against India on Day 1

cricket Updated: Sep 22, 2016 22:54 IST
Khurram Habib
Khurram Habib
Hindustan Times
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Cheteshwar Pujara bats during 1st day of 1st Test match between India and New Zealand. (Ajay Aggarwal/HT PHOTO)

The Green Park is a refreshing change from the sleek enclosures in other cricket stadia of the country. Free of corporate glaze, it has a rugged look. Instead of turnstiles, a passageway made of wooden beams guides you in, and the press area is open, with the large blowers failing to dry the sweat. Inside the complex, there is a shack selling pan masala and beedis.

For a cash-rich sport like cricket, it is a throwback to an age when all venues were said to have been like this.

In that era, fleet-footed India batsmen would often rack up massive scores as visiting bowlers would struggle on lifeless and dusty tracks. Then Anil Kumble & Co created a milieu in which the batsman was scared of the fielders around him and the crowd than the turning ball. India would win by massive margins with just four bowlers.

It may have been deja vu for coach Kumble when his six-batsman strong side was coasting at 154/1 halfway through the first day after winning the toss against New Zealand. Cheteshwar Pujara was cruising by using his feet while Murali Vijay anchored the innings.

But then, this is a different age. In the space of 10 overs, India lost three wickets, slipping to 185/4 at tea. Pujara couldn’t measure the pace of the ball and gave a catch to left-arm spinner Mitchell Santner. Captain Virat Kohli probably had a rush of blood after the ovation from school kids who were invited to add to the numbers. He looked aggressive, wanting to dominate, but fell in the trap laid by his counterpart Kane Williamson. A short delivery from Neil Wagner saw Kohli attempting a hook but couldn’t control it and was caught at deep backward square leg. Then, Vijay tried to force the pace but was caught behind while trying to cut a ball too close to him.

Adrenaline wasn’t the only factor. Skill too seemed to be lacking.

There was no vicious turn. Santner later said they concentrated on pitching the ball in the right areas, allowing the pitch to do the rest. The first day’s surface threw up no demons. Despite settling down, Ajinkya Rahane turned the face of the bat half-heartedly. It froze at 45 degrees and the ball caught the edge, hit the pad and popped up.

Rohit Sharma curbed his instincts and stroke-play but was still done in. He holed out to mid on while trying to loft one that wasn’t on the bat’s meat. It was, as Vijay said later, Rohit’s bread-and-butter stroke. Earlier, Rohit had survived a close leg before shout after missing a sweep shot.

There is one thing the Kiwis have which India’s previous opponents, the West Indies, lacked --- Trent Boult’s swing bowling and his sharpness. It was enough to shut out any chance of a fightback by R Ashwin and Wriddhiman Saha, which became a norm in the Caribbean.