If there are two batsmen who have consistently brought India the big runs, they are skipper Virat Kohli and vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane. Consistency comes from adaptability, and on Saturday it was this duo that adapted the best to the pitch conditions.
Kohli’s gritty effort saw him score an unbeaten 103 off 191 balls, while Rahane played the perfect partner with an unbeaten 79 off 172 deliveries. Together, they played out the day with an unbroken partnership of 167, rallying India to a competitive 267 for three at stumps on Day One of the third Test.
Kohli is the first batsman to score a century in this series. It was a telling statistic on the conditions on offer. India’s decision to have spin-friendly tracks to gain home advantage has meant batsmen no longer call the shots, even on the opening day.
Kohli though bucked the trend, his first Test century at home for more than three years (and 17 innings) made even more significant after the top-order failed to build on good starts.
While the wicket was not full of demons, it afforded enough purchase for the bowlers after Kohli chose to bat first.
India at one stage were 100 for three, scoring at a run rate of less than 2.5. New Zealand had pulled things back around lunch with spinners Jeetan Patel and Mitchell Santner slowing India’s progress.
Left-arm Santner pulled off the wicket of the day, castling Cheteshwar Pujara (41) with wicked spin, the ball crashing into off-stump after pitching on middle.
Pujara didn’t know what hit him, and the Kiwis smelled blood.
The task of re-building the innings fell on the shoulders of Kohli, who himself had not quite set the stage on fire in the previous games in the series.
Kohli, aided by Rahane, looked to rebuild. Rahane faced a few tricky questions upon arrival, and was served some short stuff by the Kiwi pacers. A few flew of his arm-guard, some off his body. He weathered the initial storm and stood by Kohli.
The two spent the post-lunch session frustrating the Kiwi attack. They adapted well and controlled their natural instinct to explode at times.
The morning cloud cover had cleared by then, and the sun was shining brightly. If the heat wasn’t bad enough for the Kiwis, the stoic defence of the two India leaders was sheer frustration.
Post Tea the two shifted gears and were smashing at least one boundary an over. It wasn’t like they dominated the bowlers, but had handed India the advantage. Kohli smashed 10 boundaries while Rahane scored nine fours and a six.
Kohli, 27, reached his hundred in the 84th over with a risky single, after tapping the ball to point. It was a desperate dive that saw him reach the crease as a direct hit sent the issue to the third umpire.
A few anxious seconds later, Kohli was in the clear and could celebrate his 13th Test ton. His partnership with Rahane, 28, had firmly turned things around after the early setbacks.
Gautam Gambhir, the comeback man at 34, had made an impressive start. He made a quickfire 29 that included two back-to-back sixes and three fours. His aggression though brought about his demise. Opening partner Murali Vijay (10) was the first to perish, trying to take the initiative.
Pujara had brought some order, but in the end was unfortunate to face a ripper of a delivery from Santner.
At stumps, India looked good to breach the 400-run mark on Day two. The Kiwis will hope for some fortune that didn’t come their way on Saturday, which included losing their third straight toss.