R Ashwin bowls to a New Zealand batsman during second day of their first Test match at Rajiv Gandhi Internationl Cricket Stadium, in Hyderabad. HT/Sunil Saxena
The good: India are back to their dominating ways at home, their spinners are teasing the Kiwi batsmen with puzzle after puzzle, they are catching well and are looking set to finish the first Test inside four days.
The bad, actually ugly aspect is that India’s lower order batting lacks spine. The last five wickets fell for 67 runs on a second-day, second-session Indian track that generally rolls out well for the batsmen.
When New Zealand skipper Ross Taylor said before the match that his experience in India will come in handy, he may have meant the time spent in the Indian Premier League. His batsmen, including veteran Brendon McCullum, who has a double hundred at the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium, could neither use soft hands nor apply patient minds and departed in T20 fashion, leaving the Kiwis tottering at 106/5 at stumps, 332 runs behind India’s first innings total and 133 adrift of the follow-on mark.
The attendance dropped to 8000-odd from the first day’s 15000, which showed what the crowd thought of the quality of the visiting side. And New Zealand batsmen came out clearly second best on a track assisting spin, giving the impressive R Ashwin three early wickets.
India may be celebrating the birth of Rahul Dravid’s replacement at No. 3 in Cheteshwar Pujara, but the kind of solidity provided in the middle-order by VVS Laxman and Sourav Ganguly is missing. India have found Virat Kohli but they need another batsman who can make the No. 6 spot his own. Pujara’s strong effort on Thursday helped conceal Suresh Raina’s failure against a poor delivery from off-spinner Jeetan Patel.
Raina is competing with the prodigal Rohit Sharma and the experienced S Badrinath for the No. 6 spot, but this is turning out to be more of a ‘best among the ordinary’ race. The first session on Friday didn’t cause much concern as a composed Pujara and MS Dhoni, although looking circumspect, guided the innings until lunch without damage. Dhoni kept pumping up the latest star to stay on and he kept nodding his head in agreement.
The guidance worked as Pujara scored sensibly, picking the right deliveries to score. But Thursday’s effort seemed to have taken a lot out of him and once past 150, having spent close to eight hours on the pitch, he began to display signs he was exhausted. Taylor employed a more attacking field and Pujara’s attempt to clear mid-on failed and he was gone for 159. Dhoni, who too slowed down as he found the scoring tough, also paid the price for using a disproportionate amount of bottom hand into a drive to be held by Doug Bracewell at mid off. The bowler was again Patel, who couldn't help conceal his delight at his second gift of the day.
It was all downhill for Indian batting from there. Ashwin admitted the hosts fell short of the planned 500. “We floundered. If we had one good partnership, we could have made it. But, four hundred is a good enough score.”
But it seems more than enough for these New Zealand batsmen, who appeared to have been psyched by the turning track, giving both Ojha and Ashwin wickets in their first overs. The only thing that can possibly delay the inevitable is a change in their mental approach. As Patel put it, “We have to come back and face the music. But our reputation is to fight.” He could be hoping against hope. Scorecard