The Basin Reserve is not just a scenic cricket venue, it also encourages Test cricket watching as it was in its early days, a leisurely affair. On Saturday, spectators flocked to the ground in large numbers. Young children tumbled down the grass banks to amuse themselves, parents moved around pushing infants in prams.
The second day of the Test was also about patience. India had to cash in on their good start. The pitch was not spiteful as it was on the first day, but the waiting game still had to be played. India didn't entirely come out on top when it came to staying watchful. That meant the other option had to be exercised, pushing the game forward. At the end of the day, two men used a good dose of both to hand India a firm grip on the game.
Ajinkya Rahane is a chip of the old block. Staying patient comes to him naturally. His fellow batsmen lost out in the temperament battle. But he backed his solid technique and stayed focus to stroke a brilliant maiden Test century that killed the hopes of New Zealand that they can claw their way back in the game.
The 438 runs India piled up gave a 246-run first innings lead. New Zealand, 24 for one at stumps, will be under pressure as the nine-over old ball will help pacers on the third morning.
India started very well. Shikhar Dhawan played fluently to be on the verge of his second Test century on the trot. Ishant Sharma's excellent support at the other end was a big help. But the left-handed opener was sucked into a clever Tim Southee delivery that moved late. But the three-hour knock (98 - 127 b, 14x4, 1x6) was valuable and should have been exploited to the hilt by the middle-order.
New Zealand's only option was to bowl on one side of the wicket, dry up the runs, frustrate the batsmen and force them into mistakes. And it worked, as Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli fell to loose shots. The casual aspect of Rohit's game consumed him again. He tried to drive a wide ball from debutant James Neesham without moving his feet, only to drag it onto the stumps. Kohli seemed to have weathered the Kiwi ploy when played a suicidal drive to one pitched wide by Neil Wagner for that.
India, 36 runs ahead with six wickets down, looked shaky. But skipper MS Dhoni believes in moving the game forward. The ball was still doing a bit, but he shuffled in the crease or stepped out, never losing an opportunity to attack. Like in Auckland, the Kiwi pacers were thrown off track. And it had an electrifying effect on Rahane as well.
In two hours either side of tea interval, the pair added 120 runs in just 145 deliveries. Dhoni's 29th Test half-century (68 – 86 b, 9x4, 1x6) had changed the tempo. With Ravindra Jadeja (26) too attacking, India had seized the momentum.
Rahane caressed shots through cover, playing strongly off the backfoot. Cautious in the first half of his innings, Rahane rattled off his last 68 runs in 55 balls thanks to Dhoni. He had missed out his maiden century in Durban by four runs, but put away that vital boundary off Corey Anderson. A stunning one-handed catch Trent Boult took to dismiss him didn't really matter in the context of the game.
India should end their overseas victory drought from here on. But on a pitch that no longer offers much for the bowlers, it could be all about coming on top of a waiting game.