It isn’t often that on a track designed for Indian needs, a foreign side dominates for two successive days. When rain interrupted what was without doubt an absorbing day’s play, New Zealand’s top order was batting not only with resolve, but was displaying exemplary technique to counter the spinning ball.
There has been a lot of chatter around on why teams falter in Indian conditions. At Kanpur on Friday, two batsmen altered that perception. Not only did they use their feet exceptionally well, they also attacked the loose ball without much fuss.
Skipper Kane Williamson is not your typical broad, strong, tall Kiwi, who can pulverise the ball with brute force. Measured, unhurried and strong willed, Williamson has made loads of runs all over the world and is considered among the best in his trade.
What he displayed was an uncanny sense of judging the length on a track where the ball, especially in the first session, was not spinning too much and was coming off the wicket slowly. The typical response from batsmen, which has led to their doom, has been to play forward, meet the ball too early and then watch it travel in the air to close-in fielders.
It has often been said that the best way to play on these tracks is to wait for the ball to pitch and then decide whether to go forward or back. Williamson’s response was exactly that. An initial forward movement would then transform into back-foot or front-foot play, after having judged the length of the ball. Since the ball was coming off the track slowly, Williamson mostly relied on the back-foot and played the ball as late as possible, which resulted in his being on top of his game and made the two India spinners struggle to adjust their line and length.
A perfect ally in this operation was Tom Latham. The left-hander had his moments of doubt and he was even lucky to get a reprieve. That did nothing to distract him from his mission to first attack the new ball with vigour and then use the sweep as his main weapon to frustrate both Ashwin and Jadeja.
The two batsmen tilted the balance in New Zealand’s favour, though when rain interrupted, the wicket had started to show signs of becoming venomous.
An Ashwin ball spun and bounced so much that it eluded Williamson’s prodding bat and hit him on the helmet. These are ominous signs and New Zealand, despite being just one wicket down and having wiped the deficit by almost half, should still feel apprehensive.
These are conditions where the fall of wickets with each passing day becomes so rapid that it rarely allows a team to recover.
Though India must be realising the blunder of not including a third spinner, they must be still hopeful that all is not lost yet. An early breakthrough on Saturday, and who knows, we will be back to batsmen being surrounded by a clutch of fielders, passionate full-throated appeals, wickets tumbling and run-scoring becoming increasingly difficult.
In these circumstances a first innings lead will be crucial as New Zealand have the bowlers to block all escape routes. The question remains which team will get that advantage.
As of now, it was one more day where the Kiwis outplayed the Indians in their den.