The virtues of Test cricket on a track that tests the technique of the batsmen against a viciously spinning ball were on riveting display on the final morning of the first Test. Even while an Indian victory was being taken for granted and the forbearance and tenacity on display from the two overnight New Zealand batsmen was only delaying the inevitable, the intensity of the duel was fascinating and deeply absorbing.
Two rookies in Test cricket -- Mitchell Santner and Luke Ronchi -- one playing his eighth Test and the other his second, were countering the guile, wiles and variations of the two seasoned Indian spinners with soft supple hands and negating the vagaries of the wicket with an equanimity that spoke of their tremendous resolve and skills.
Ashwin did everything he is capable of. He spun the ball, tossed it up, pushed it through faster, using the bowling crease, gripping the ball harder to apply more revolutions to it, or softer when not wanting to turn it much. In short, he used every possible trick up his sleeve and yet success eluded him in the first hour.
Jadeja, the left-armer with a lot less variety in his repertoire but no less lethal, with the accuracy of a sharp-shooter, especially on a helpful track, too was rendered ineffective.
Ronchi attacked when needed, defended with courage and conviction, just like his partner Santner and one could see the creases on Kohli’s face get deeper with tension.
This masterly clash between the two set of opposites countering each other to win this battle of wits, was a supreme exhibition as well as advertisement of Test cricket at its enthralling best.
That this encounter lasted for more than one hour in extremely unfavourable batting conditions, should give New Zealand a renewed hope that they could fight India on equal terms in the rest of the two Tests.
Once the breakthrough was made -- Ronchi’s calm and patience wavering against Jadeja’s perseverance – a more familiar story unfolded.
Kohli, who was forced to retreat strategically and go back to his seamer from one end, reintroduced his two main weapons in tandem once again. For a brief while, it did appear that the Kiwis were still up for a fight with Walting lending solid support to Santner’s admirable defiance.
Kohli was once again forced to abandon his spinning plans and Shami, who has had very little role to play in the match, was introduced into action. That did the trick, two quick strikes and India were breathing much more freely. The rest was a formality.
The Indians will remember the sweet feeling of victory, going one up in the series with justifiable elation. For the New Zealanders, the batting of Santner and Ronchi could act as an inspiration that all is not lost yet.