India are in firm control of the second Test after a fluent 82 by Rohit Sharma at his favourite venue gave them an overall lead of 339 against New Zealand on the third day.
The Kiwi pacers pressed hard at the start of the second innings but India’s batting line-up was too deep to be dismissed without a fight. After a brisk 45 by captain Virat Kohli, India’s first substantial resistance came in the form of a 103-run partnership for the seventh wicket between Rohit and Wriddhiman Saha. It allowed India to ride the first innings lead of 112 and construct a second innings advantage that is already 14 more than the highest fourth innings total at this ground.
It wasn’t a smooth ride though. Between India and this lead stood a pitch that was still playing tricks well into the third day. Historically, the Eden Gardens pitch normally becomes the proverbial batting paradise by the third day --- flat as a shirt front where batsmen can play through the line without worrying about it misbehaving.
This one though is a September pitch, a first in the 82-year Test history of Eden. Re-laid, fresh and untested, this pitch has aided seam, reverse swing, spin, bounce as well as the lack of it in surprising doses throughout the Test.
Patience, as Rohit pointed out later, is virtuous on such strips. “You can’t relax. There is something in the surface throughout the day, not just in the morning or in the evening,” he said.
The third day of a Test is generally the most coveted watch. But what can make it a spectacle are two teams who refuse to back down on a pitch that has a mind. If not for the seventh-wicket partnership, New Zealand quite possibly would have had batted second time on Sunday. With more than eight sessions left after Mohammed Shami trapped Neil Wagner 27 minutes before lunch was taken, the onus was on India to make New Zealand suffer in the sun before going in for the kill. But a combination of bad shot selection, the pitch playing tricks and a disciplined effort from the Kiwi pacers saw India reeling at 43/4 one time.
Matt Henry again got Murali Vijay in almost a replay of his first innings dismissal. Four boundaries allowed Shikhar Dhawan to flirt with form before sloppy footwork cost him his wicket. This was after a ball reared up to him and hit his left thumb.
Cheteshwar Pujara may have got a harsh decision with a Henry delivery that was perhaps missing leg. Rahane surprised with a hasty pull off a delivery wide of off-stump but Kohli’s was the dismissal that indicated batting could get more difficult on this pitch. Trent Boult’s attempted short delivery skidded on to hit Kohli just outside off-stump but the shuffle of his stance and the lack of bounce may have attributed to the umpire giving him out. Kohli missed out on a fifty but gave Rohit enough time to settle down.
Playing the ball late and decisive footwork --- shown by Kohli as well --- meant Rohit was better equipped to ride out the storm even as Saha struggled sometimes at the other end. Hitting got slightly easier with the ball getting old but Rohit still had to execute with conviction. He was 29 off 59 balls at one time. With a six off Boult --- pulled over square-leg --- Rohit started the transformation that witnessed pristine drives, firm punches, cuts between point and gully and even a few sweeps to get him to 82 off 132 and India to safer shores.