Before India ended their second overseas tour in a row with only defeats and misses, they briefly flirted with disaster on the final day before the second Test ended in a draw at the Basin Reserve on Tuesday. But the window of opportunity opened up soon after lunch.
New Zealand paceman Trent Boult made one kick off the flat pitch and Virat Kohli, whose in-your-face aggression always keeps the opposition hoping, brought his bat down with a flourish, looking to punch through off. With both the openers dismissed, the slip fielders and the bowler went up in jubilation than in appeal.
Australian umpire Steve Davis was unmoved. But TV replays confirmed he had clearly nicked it. As the slow motion replay came up on the giant screen, a bunch of Kiwi fans shouted what they thought of the umpire, who had made several mistakes in this series.
Kohli didn’t need a second chance, playing positively to complete a century for the third overseas Test tour in a row. Handshakes followed soon after as the hosts forgot the let-off, happy to secure the result which got them the 1-0 series win.
It was a day when misses were turned into opportunities. Brendon McCullum achieved the biggest of them 45 minutes into play on a cloudy and windy Wellington morning. Dropped twice on the third day, the buzz around his impending milestone as New Zealand’s first Test triple centurion had touched feverish pitch. Fans packed in to witness the momentous achievement in New Zealand cricket.
Undefeated on 281 overnight, he was clearly nervous. His heart was in his mouth when he edged a terrific delivery from Ishant Sharma on 293. Another miss. It fell just short of MS Dhoni, standing a bit too deep. A cut off Zaheer Khan for four and the standing ovation was prolonged.
There were more cheers as he fell two deliveries later, ending a 13-hour vigil that had turned the match on its head. McCullum’s wicket was Zaheer’s first five-wicket innings haul since October, 2010, after 19 Tests, a reward for pushing his 35-year-old body through 51 overs in the second innings. Debutant James Neesham hardly looked a No 8 during his fluent 137 not out. Still, McCullum did not declare until almost lunch, killing the contest.
He began the tour with a century in the first ODI and ended with one, but it will be mixed emotions for Kohli. In the Auckland Test, his dismissal while well-set triggered a slide, resulting in the 40-run loss. And dropping McCullum on nine made all the difference here.
Kohli’s aggressive approach allows the opposition to try and play on his ego. He fell for it in the first innings, driving uppishly, but this time played sparkling drives, pulls and hooks, all of them with control.
But India would still feel undone by Davis, who gave Shikhar Dhawan leg before when the ball would have gone over the stumps. In the first Test, he gave Corey Anderson leg before to one sliding down the leg and Ajinkya Rahane when he had played it onto the pads.
The one man delighted by his miss was Stuart McCullum, the Kiwi skipper’s father. He had booked his flight to leave Wellington the previous afternoon, only to discover he had reached the airport a month early! He got back, had a beer with his son in the evening and was beaming on the balcony of the members’ enclosure as his son join an elite club of 23.