New Zealand may have lost the first Test in Kanpur but let’s not write them off yet. The Kiwis fought hard to make sure the Green Park crowd was entertained by a good contest on all five days. Just that those efforts came in patches.
The visitors possess the skillset as well as a sound gameplan. Though they need to add consistency to the mix to stage a comeback in the three-match series. In Kanpur, New Zealand squandered the advantage after getting into strong positions — be it with the ball or bat—from where they could have taken control.
On the first day, the Kiwis almost pocketed two sessions as their bowlers ensured India lost nine wickets for 291. Had the spinners been more consistent with their length, New Zealand could have restricted the run flow further.
The Indians not only threw away wickets at important points, they were also troubled by the spin, especially in the latter part of the day when the pitch began to crack. However, the Kiwis provided easy scoring opportunities to R Ashwin and Rohit Sharma to lose the advantage. The duo took India out of trouble — from 209 to 261, adding 52 runs.
“On the scorecard it looks like a biggish defeat, but there were just a couple of moments that I would reflect on as where the game turned slightly more in their favour,” NZ skipper Kane Williamson said, hinting that the contest could have turned either way.
New Zealand lost the advantage on the opening day and the Indian score of 318 was enough to put any opposition under pressure, especially on a deteriorating pitch. But the visiting batsmen took on the challenge — Williamson and Tom Latham combined to put India on the back foot on Day Two. The duo stitched a stand of 117 runs before rain interrupted play in the third session.
The abandoning of the final session broke New Zealand’s momentum. Till that point, Williamson and Latham were tackling the guile of Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja really well. Things could have panned out differently had they continued.
The next morning, the stand was broken when Latham was trapped by Ashwin. The Kiwis lost two more wickets in quick succession. Having added 49 runs, Mitchell Santner and Luke Ronchi should have tried to stay a bit longer. At 219, Ronchi was trapped by Jadeja and at 255, a set BJ Watling returned a simple catch to Ashwin.
Had New Zealand built on the three partnerships, they could have swung things in their favour.
“The back end of our first innings with the bat and when we bowled in the second innings, there was probably a three-hour period where we didn’t bowl very well and they got away from us. It’s a combination of us not quite being at our best at certain times, while they played very well. I do think it (the key) was applying ourselves for longer,” Williamson admitted.
The New Zealand bowlers adjusted well to the pitch in the second innings. Santner was much more economical. But as Williamson said, the bowlers couldn’t maintain the rhythm to keep up the pressure.
India were in a strong position after the entire batting line-up contributed, but inconsistent bowling from Ish Sodhi and Mark Craig proved to be an equal contribution.
In the second innings, the Kiwis certainly displayed intent on a turner. Santner not only picked wickets but showed application with the bat as well. He was solid in defence even when the ball was turning square. Ronchi batted aggressively, playing on the back foot and stepped out quickly enough to reach the pitch of the delivery. Had he not attempted an unnecessary sweep off Jadeja, Santner and Ronchi could have stretched the game a bit longer.
“Guys who hadn’t played here before spent some valuable time in the middle and made some valuable contributions. The wayMitch Santner and Luke Ronchi played were the highlights. As a unit we want to be able to apply that pressure for longer, which isn’t always easy in this part of the world against a side like India. But it’s certainly a challenge for us moving forward,” added Williamson.
To their credit, the Kiwis have been keen observers and they seemed to have picked up a few tricks from the Indians.
“It is a challenge against a very good attack but they have got the skill sets, and it’s being able to stick to it for a lot longer. That is the same with the ball for our young spin attack, who are extremely talented. Being over here in these hot conditions, being able to remain focused for a long period because you know if you put the ball in the area for long enough, you’ll get your rewards. That’s what the Indian team showed us,” Williamson said.
With the next match at Eden Gardens in Kolkata from September 30, the Kiwis are hoping to make a comeback in the series with a win. The pitch is expected to be better than Kanpur and New Zealand, if they get the consistency into their game, are more than capable of taking the fight to the Indians.