Just as the captains walked out for the toss on Friday morning, India’s close cordon was at a catching session. Second and third slips, Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan, wore training gloves but first slip Murali Vijay didn’t. Be it accident or design, it would have helped him get a better feel, having dropped two catches that proved costly in the first Test in Auckland.
Not having won anything in the series, it was all about learning and executing for India. Evidence of Vijay having taken a fresh look at a crucial detail came 40 minutes into the match. Ishant Sharma made one kick awkwardly to induce the nick from Hamish Rutherford and Vijay made no mistake this time, taking it low in front.
India’s brilliant first day in the second Test at the Basin Reserve had much to do with demonstrating they had learnt from the recent past. Ishant went on to capture a career-best innings haul with support from Mohammed Shami as India’s pacers never loosened their grip.
At close, Shikhar Dhawan, the first Test centurion, was batting like he does when on song, aggressive and free. After dismissing New Zealand for 192, India’s strong start would have made the Kiwis’ take stock of their batting and bowling for a change.
The lucky ones
Skipper MS Dhoni’s success sequence with the toss continued, and this could prove the most important one. The pacers grabbed the opportunity to bowl first on the green top, with swing, seam and bounce, at times a bit slow off the deck, all available. Having bundled out the hosts for 105 in their second innings in Auckland, they again demonstrated their potency in such conditions.
Dhoni wasn’t the only lucky one. Kane Williamson, the outstanding young No 3 who had a lot of responsibility with Ross Taylor not playing, was twice ‘dismissed’ off no-balls. Zaheer Khan was the first offender, off the last ball before lunch. It would have reduced the innings to 51 for five. Williamson was on 15 then. That was the only area India didn’t learn as the next let-off came on 23, this time Ishant found to have overstepped after a bat-pad chance was superbly taken by Cheteshwar Pujara at forward short leg.
Williamson’s reprieves allowed Corey Anderson (24) and debutant James Neesham (33) to attack the bowling in the afternoon to push the score to respectability.
Ishant was otherwise impeccable. At the end of the day, he even came on as nightwatchman and saw off the final 15 minutes, even if that required falling on his back to avoid a bouncer.
Zaheer and Mohammed Shami started well, but there was no sign of that early wicket. Ishant hit the right length quickly, just short of length and extracting bounce and movement. Both openers as well as debutant Tom Latham edged behind.
In the first inning in Auckland, the India pacers had resorted to bowling too short, letting the batsmen off the hook. They had learnt from that, offering very little to pull or hook until the lower order batsmen arrived.
Zaheer failed to take a wicket despite bowling in conditions where he would normally be close to unplayable, but Shami came back strongly. He got McCullum to drive to cover before lunch and then got rid of Williamson with one which swung in and kicked off the pitch, Rohit at second slip taking a diving catch.
Although Tim Southee forced Vijay to glove one which came in a long way, Shikhar looked to rotate the strike. He was beaten on a few occasions but stayed positive. The cover drives, cuts, pulls and the upper cut were all signs of a man determined to find his own way forward. Trent Boult did beat Cheteshwar Pujara with prodigious swing but India have set a solid platform.