As long or boring a day might sound or feel in Test cricket, it is essentially about thrilling passages of play.
On a rain curtailed day that saw cricket being played under lights for 9.2 overs, an ambitious India turned up to convert a satisfactory score into a match-winning one before their pacers and spinners rocked New Zealand’s batting order in perfect tandem.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who is now making a habit of taking five-wicket hauls on comeback, sent New Zealand spiralling into a slide that looks irreversible now.
It couldn’t have happened though without the extra cushion of 77 runs added in 18.5 overs - 40 of which came off the bat of Wriddhiman Saha who scored his first fifty at home. Having lost their footing with the ball, New Zealand lost further ground by losing two wickets in the five overs they had to bat before lunch. The next two sessions were incomplete but thoroughly fulfilling for India.
The Kiwis ended the day at a precarious 128/7, trailing India’s first innings by 188 runs and probably wondering what went so wrong from the first day when they had the edge.
Actually, nothing worked right for them. Right from bowling the wrong line to tailenders to horrible shot selection, New Zealand fluffed their lines big time. But what they lacked most, unlike India, was intent. Kumar and Saha may have ended the day’s heroes but India’s ascent wouldn’t have been possible without Virat Kohli’s vision.
When the last passage of play had begun under floodlights, almost two hours of game time had been wasted due to 15 minutes of passing rain. New Zealand were already cut to size at 85/4 but Kohli wanted to snuff out any chance of a comeback.
For that Kohli needed a 12th man. He didn’t have to look far. Eden Gardens, despite a sparse attendance, obliged its captain immediately. Out came the dhaakis with their drumrolls as throats were cleared to build the loud chorus to which Kumar and Mohammed Shami made the Kiwis dance. With the light metres out, India risked quicker stoppage of play if the pacers were to bowl. But Kohli was adamant.
Ravindra Jadeja, in the middle of a spell where he had taken two wickets, had already handed his hat to the umpire when Kohli gave the ball to Kumar. In the context of the game, it was a masterstroke. Ross Taylor had been fishing outside his off-stump throughout his innings. Kumar took just one ball to get that all-important poke that was gleefully accepted by Murali Vijay at first slip. Nobody missed Taylor’s smile of resignation and shaking of head when he was trudging back.
India’s pacers meanwhile had worked up a fantastic spell of bowling. With Shami extracting bounce and pace and Kumar bending the ball at his will, New Zealand’s submission was just a matter of time. They couldn’t have started worse too. Having lost Tom Latham early, Martin Guptill looked cautious with his shot selection. But he shouldered arms to a rising Kumar delivery when he should have ideally dropped his hands on a pitch that had unpredictable bounce. The ball rose too much to take a painful ricochet off Guptill’s elbow before crashing into his stumps.
There were times New Zealand might feel they had got the raw end of the deal, what with playing under lights and a controversial decision. The latter actually cost them a well settled Luke Ronchi who had looked plumb when Jadeja first appealed against him but umpire Rod Tucker turned it down. Next time Ronchi came out of his crease to a ball that was drifting down leg but Tucker thought otherwise. That’s where New Zealand started losing the plot.