It is probably the sign of the times we live in that even a fair sprinkling of people filling vacant spaces in a stadium will be termed as encouraging.
India’s 500th Test match is a milestone to be celebrated not for the results it may produce, but for the number itself, that inspires nostalgia and lends itself to re-evaluating the contributions of some of the past greats of the game.
More importantly, perhaps, it may also be time to not only reassess the past but also look ahead when Test cricket being in a survival crisis, needs teams like India to do better in competitive environment than their poor past record indicates.
This Kanpur Test match, first of the 13 they play at a stretch at home, gives India the chance to improve their win/loss percentage record that is among the second worst of all the Test playing nations, aided by its dismal away from home performances. Its 26 per cent win record is marginally ahead of the New Zealanders, the team that has shown dynamic intent by including three spinners to exploit the Kanpur track which was predicted to assist the slow bowlers as the wicket wears down.
India who had made such a virtue of sticking to the five-bowler theory, very quietly went back to having two spinners to assist their two quickies. This is a sure sign of being wary of a wicket that requires batsmen to work harder for their runs once the ball starts spinning, which it did as the day wore out.
In their quest to correct history’s wrongs and get win/loss percentages more in their favour, India were helped by the spin of the coin, as batting first in these conditions means winning half the battle.
The rough wicket, at least from its craggy appearance, did not have much in it for the two pacemen with the shiny ball in the beginning. But slowly, steadily and surely, it allowed the three spinners turn once the ball got a bit rough and the wicket a bit soft.
The left-armer Santner, the off-spinner Craig and the leggie, Sodhi, did enough to make the Indians realize that once the wicket starts turning even more, the New Zealanders would be no pushovers.
The wicket for sure was nowhere as unplayable as they were against the South Africans. It was slow and the ball started spinning a bit later in the afternoon, but by then Pujara’s assurance and Vijay’s graceful strokes had provided India a good platform to build on.
All of a sudden, the post lunch period saw wickets tumbling, with skipper Kohli falling into the trap of hooking a short-ball into the square-leg hands, boosting the morale of the New Zealanders as they clawed their way back into the match.
This spirited fight-back from the New Zealand once again showed that Indian batsmen are as unsure of the spinning ball as the “outsiders” are. It was left to the silky smoothness of Ashwin’s strokes to somewhat stabilize the unsteady middle for India as Rohit, just when he seemed to be proving his selection right, threw it away. Once again, his perceived talent did not match his run-scoring abilities.
India, surprisingly more conservative with their selection, have just the two spinners, Ashwin and Jadeja to expose the New Zealand vulnerability on a turning track. Even then they could be more than a handful and that is the reason, the first innings score that India have put up is significant. A score in the vicinity of 300 in the first innings may not appear formidable, but on tracks like these could prove daunting for the team batting second, especially if they concede a first innings lead.
But as far as the day’s play goes, New Zealand’s display, their bold selection and Kane Williamson’s splendid leadership should worry India a lot, despite the advantage they had of having won the toss.