Ajinkya Rahane of India bats during day two of the first Test against New Zealand at Eden Park in Auckland. (AFP Photo)
their tour-heavy season in South Africa. The batsmen, looking to step into the shoes of the retired middle-order stalwarts, stood up in the Tests after the One-day series hammering.
After the ODI series defeat in New Zealand, MS Dhoni had hoped the batsmen will be more in control with no pressure to chase the game. But after the pace bowlers squandered their excellent early work to let the Kiwis pile on the runs, it was the turn of the top-order to let it slip.
New Zealand piled up 503 riding on a magnificent second Test double century by skipper Brendon McCullum - his first came in India - before the hosts were bowled out 45 minutes after lunch.
In good batting conditions, India failed to see off the threat of swing early on. Trent Boult struck twice in the first over before the Kiwi pacers reduced it to 51 for four. A composed Rohit Sharma (67 batting) and Ajinkya Rahane (23 batting) had settled down when bad light took the players off the field with 17 overs still to be bowled. It began raining soon after and an early start on Saturday means it won't be easy for the batsmen.
Ishant Sharma finished with his first five-wicket innings haul since the 2011 West Indies tour, taking four of the six wickets to fall on the second day. McCulllum piled on the runs and it took a stunning catch by Ravindra Jadeja on the boundary to stop him short of his personal best of 225, scored in Hyderabad in 2010, as the innings finally ended.
But two shockers awaited India. Left-arm Boult, generating swing, started with a no-ball but the third legal delivery consumed Shikhar Dhawan. The left-hander, whose loose technique was exposed in South Africa, was squared up and his clumsy attempt to turn to the onside only resulted in a thick edge which Kane Williamson caught low at gully. He has not scored a fifty in six Test innings since his sensational century on debut and has looked really low on confidence.
Boult was over the moon after his seventh delivery. Cheteshwar Pujara, key to India's fightback on the tour, played an atrocious shot away from his body the very third delivery he faced, nicking it behind the stumps. Virat Kohli looked good, and watchful, until Tim Southee surprised with a rising delivery. It brushed the glove as he tried to play it down and flew off the helmet to the slip cordon.
Opener Murali Vijay, as he did in South Africa, left many deliveries and settled down only to be undone by a beauty from left-armer Neil Wagner. He induced a nick that ran to the third man fence the previous delivery and the next one swung in and straightened, beating the defensive bat and clipping off-stump. Rohit completed his maiden Test half-century, after two centuries, and looked solid.
McCullum's marathon innings lasted seven hours and 42 minutes and Southee and Ish Sodhi gave him support to complete his double century. He left India's tired pacers and fielders reeling with his aggression. Having led the fightback overnight with a 221-run partnership with Williamson, he had pushed the fifth wicket stand with Corey Anderson (77) to 133 when the all-rounder was trapped leg-before.
Ishant kept plugging away after that success, rewarded with six wickets for his tireless effort. That included nine overs at a stretch in the morning. Although Indian pacers were more judicious with the short ball, that didn't stop the Kiwis from scoring at six-an-over in the first session, with 144 runs coming off 24 overs.