For all their grand escape, New Zealand will still look back in some disbelief at the way in which India laid out the route for them. A gloomy and windy day at the Eden Park started brightly for the visitors but it was the Kiwis who ended the day beaming in the mild evening sun.
On the eve of the first Test, skipper MS Dhoni, referring to the Durban Test defeat, had bemoaned how the team was conceding one or two crucial moments to let all the hard work go waste.
On Thursday morning, overcast conditions that delayed the game by 15 minutes were tailor-made for seamers. And MS Dhoni called right for the sixth time in a row and chose to bowl. His counterpart Brendon McCullum rued the fact that shaving off his facial hair had not changed his luck with the toss.
And it seemed all of India’s bowling woes of the One-day series were gone. Ishant Sharma, the biggest worry for Dhoni, began superbly after being brought on first change and joined Zaheer Khan to leave the Kiwis reeling at 30 for three before lunch.
One of Ishant’s two wickets was that of Ross Taylor, for three. When McCullum, perhaps the toss still on his mind, joined the in-form Kane Williamson, the Kiwis faced a collapse. But when stumps were called, well past the scheduled 6.15 pm as India took their time to complete the day’s quota of overs, things were looking ominous for the visitors.
The biggest letdown for India was Murali Vijay, a shaky first slip, dropping an easy catch when Williamson was on 32, after Mohammed Shami got one to seam away, soon after lunch. The 23-year-old, who struck a century on Test debut in India four years ago, made India pay for the lapse, one of many on the field. He went on to stroke 113 and piled up 221 runs with McCullum.
The Kiwi skipper was undefeated on 143 after guiding the score to 329 for four. Corey Anderson was 42 not out.
Ajinkya Rahane’s stunning catch at gully saw Hamish Rutherford’s back and Zaheer then trapped the other opener Peter Fulton, already let off by third slip Shikhar Dhawan, who dived for the catch going to Rohit Sharma at second slip.
Still, India were on top after Taylor drove to mid-off. But Vijay’s dropped catch suddenly saw them lose intensity. On a pitch that had lost its early life, Zaheer began banging it in, at a friendly pace to be repeatedly pulled for boundaries. It didn’t take too long for Shami and Ishant too follow suit. The two pacers also missed two direct hit attempts.
Lunch to tea saw 125 runs scored in just 27 overs. Williamson and McCullum superbly rotated the strike. Dhoni, with an eye on the over-rate, brought on Ravindra Jadeja. But the left-arm spinner bowled down the leg and was punished by McCullum, who kept on sweeping. Zaheer was lucky to dismiss Williamson, nicking a delivery down the leg to Dhoni.
But McCullum, whose career-best knock of 225 came in India, was looking to better that after he and Anderson saw off the threat of the second new ball late in the day. Only in the last few overs did the pacers seem to realise the virtues of discipline, but New Zealand will fancy their chances from here.