Surviving subcontinent tours is difficult without elaborate plans. Not the most gifted side, New Zealand had plenty of those along with the discipline to implement them. What helped them was the Eden Gardens pitch that Ajinkya Rahane termed was ‘different’.
That was code for helpful to the Kiwis. A nice cover of grass, the early morning dampness, everything worked in New Zealand’s favour. But their execution of plans was decisive.
Like for every other side, Virat Kohli was the most valuable wicket for the Kiwis. Keeping him on the back-foot by bowling bouncers was a clever start by Neil Wagner. Kohli, beyond all his mastery through covers, has a recent history against bouncers. Alzarri Joseph had found him out with a bouncer in St Lucia. Wagner did the same in the first innings in Kanpur. Predictably, four out of his first six deliveries to Kohli on Friday ranged from back of the length to bouncers.
Two more short deliveries from Wagner in the 19th over and Kohli was ready to pounce on anything delivered full to him. Trent Boult did exactly that. The first ball of the 22nd over was caressed through extra cover but New Zealand’s plan bore fruit three balls later when Kohli was lured into another wide delivery. This time, Tom Latham was waiting at short cover.
New Zealand were practical in accepting that they couldn’t run through India on a pitch that was bound to flatten out with time. But till it aided seamers or when the ball was new, Boult and Matt Henry, who took three wickets, pitched the ball fuller in the hope of movement. That accounted for Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, Kohli and R Ashwin, who was trapped leg-before by Henry with the second new ball.
When there was no movement, the duo focused on stifling the length with Wagner exploiting the angle by coming around the wicket often.
“We had to make sure we controlled the run rate because it is very tough in these conditions to take wickets. We knew it was important with the new ball to take advantage of it because the wicket had been under covers for a long time,” said Henry. By changing the bowling combinations, stand-in New Zealand captain Ross Taylor also ensured Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane struggled to find rhythm.
That’s where the spinners, especially Jeetan Patel’s off-breaks, came in handy. He was more expensive than left-arm spinner Mitchell Santner but posed more uncomfortable questions for India.
“It was important to maintain those (bowling) partnerships and make sure we could create pressure by building dots. Jeets (Patel) and Sat (Santner) were fantastic in allowing us to build a lot of pressure and that manifested in what happened at the end of the day,” said Henry.