A charming, open ground with hills on both sides, a mountain forming the backdrop, sunshine and a lush green outfield the setting was perfect for cricket at the Cobham Oval here on Sunday.
This was the way the game was originally meant to be played; in tranquillity, to revive mind and body. From being a recreational pursuit by amateurs, cricket is now a big money industry with hardly any space for the small town tour games.
In this context, a contest such as the one here needs to be cherished. In the days ahead, these could become rarer.
In the event, the fortunes were mixed for India on day one of this two-day game. The failure to secure an early breakthrough – so crucial in these conditions – was disappointing.
The opening pair of George Worker and the impressive Robert O’ Donnell put on 81 for the first wicket.
New Zealand XI declared at 262 for nine and India was 41 without loss at stumps. Both Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan appeared secure, which is a good sign on a surface with carry.
Ishwar Pandey bowled capably. He operated with control, stuck to an off-stump line and did achieve some away movement and bounce. The lanky paceman, who scalped three, switched his line effectively to the southpaws. Senior left-arm paceman Zaheer Khan did not stretch himself but did settle into a good bowling rhythm.
Ishant Sharma recovered from an ordinary first spell to bowl with some verve subsequently but ran into serious no-balling issues. He sent down 10 of them in all.
After the conclusion of the day’s play, Ishant was seen sorting out the problem with coach Duncan Fletcher.
Umesh Yadav generated some speed but did not always hit the right areas.
Off-spinner R. Ashwin relied on flight and dip; he beat the batsmen in the air on a few occasions. On a surface without much assistance for him, he sent down a few telling top-spinners as well.
It was Ashwin who broke the opening partnership when he got Worker leg-before with a straighter one.
For the host, O’ Donnell sparkled with a 124-ball 80 (13x4). He is New Zealand’s under-19 captain and has possibilities. He was sure-footed when he on-drove Ishant past the ropes. When the paceman bounced at him, O’ Donnell pulled him to the mid-wicket fence.
The youngster was on course for a hundred when he was held at gully off Ishant. The ball deviated away a tad. Jono Hikcey (45) produced a few fluent shots – a square-drive off Zaheer was the pick – before falling to Ishant in the cordon.
New Zealand XI, which decided to bat, lost its way somewhat after a strong beginning but a few bright strokes from Roald Badenhorst (34 not out) took the score past the 250-run mark.
Although this was a practice game, both teams approached it with seriousness. There was a healthy competitive edge to the duel.
The scores: New Zealand XI: G. Worker lbw b Ashwin 33, R.O’ Donnell c Rahane b Ishant 80, A. Devcich c Saha b Zaheer 9, J. Hickey c R. Sharma b Ishant 45, S. Hicks c Rayudu b Yadav 5, H. Walsh c R. Sharma b Pandey 1, T. Seifert c Saha b Pandey 8, J. Boult c Dhawan b Ashwin 8, R. Badenhorst (not out) 34, M. Tugaga c Zaheer b Pandey 8, I. McPeake (not out) 16, Extras (b-1, lb-4, nb-10): 15; Total (for nine wkts. Decl. in 78 overs): 262.
Fall of wickets: 1-81, 2-92, 3-149, 4-155, 5-160, 6-171, 7-196, 8-209, 9-235.
India bowling: Zaheer Khan 18-6-42-1, Umesh Yadav 18-4-70-1, Ishant Sharma 14-2-58-2, R. Ashwin 14-2-45-2, Ishwar Pandey 14-5-42-3.
India: M. Vijay (batting) 19, S. Dhawan (batting) 16; Extras: (b-4, nb-2) 6; Total (for no loss in 14 overs): 41.
New Zealand XI bowling: S. Friday 7-1-17-0, M. Tugaga 4-1-10-0, I. McPeake 3-0-10-0.