Given the cloud-cover, the floodlights were on for most part but the lights went out of the New Zealand top and middle order at the Rajiv Gandhi Stadium here on Friday, the second day of the first Test between India and New Zealand.
It was a familiar sub-continental scenario. The ball turned and bounced, close-in fielders surrounded the bat and the crowd roared as the batsmen played more in hope than conviction.
At stumps, New Zealand, replying to India’s first innings score of 438, was reeling at 106 for five, requiring 133 more runs to avoid the follow on.
Considering rain has been forecast on Sunday and Monday, it would be interesting to see whether India enforces the follow-on in the event of New Zealand not making the cut.
The surface for this Test has red soil — unlike the track for the Test against the Kiwis here in 2010 — and consequently the ball spun quicker off the surface.
The New Zealand batsmen needed to use the crease and play with soft hands. Instead, they jabbed hard at the ball. The cordon around the bat was busy.
Predictably, off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin and left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha were in the thick of things. Spinners hunt in pairs.
Ashwin varied his trajectory and harnessed the angles. Martin Guptill played forward but was beaten by the turn to be held — bat-pad — at backward short-leg.
Key batsman Ross Taylor, attempting to glide one, was picked up by Virat Kohli at backward short-leg. The umpires were not convinced about the legality of the catch and third umpire came into the picture. Taylor was given out.
The left-handed Daniel Flynn, aggressive in his intent, attempted to sweep Ashwin from off-stump. He was at the receiving end of a marginal leg-before decision.
Earlier, Ohja prised out opener Brendon McCulllum after the ebullient right-hander had waded into Zaheer Khan. Done in by a slight dip in flight, McCullum was caught at cover.
Indeed, Ojha bowled a good line to the right-handers. Late in the day, he ended a determined 44-run fifth wicket association between Kane Williamson (32) and James Franklin (31 batting).
Williamson attempted to cut a teasing delivery too full for the stroke and Sehwag made no mistake at slip. The Indians celebrated another kill.
Earlier, Cheteshwar Pujara (159, 306b, 19x4, 1x6) and skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni (73, 147b, 6x4, 1x6) guided India to a healthy total.
Pujara continued to put a price on his wicket. He was watchful along with Dhoni in the morning since the second new ball was still shiny and hard.
As the day progressed, Pujara batted with greater freedom. Yet, being a No. 3 in Tests, he must avoid playing the dab shot to third man. He collected a boundary from the stroke off Trent Boult here but attempting a similar shot on a seaming track could be fatal.
The feature of Pujara’s batting was once again his back-foot play. A force through covers off paceman Chris Martin screamed for attention. And a telling pull off seamer Doug Bracewell enabled him to reach the 150-run mark.
Pujara and Dhoni — both departed in a bid to up the run-rate — gathered 127 runs for the sixth wicket. New Zealand agonised as the partnership grew.
Dhoni was fortunate in the morning when he reached out to drive fuller length deliveries from Martin and Bracewell without getting his left foot to the pitch of the ball. On both occasions, the sphere swung away without kissing the blade.
Growing in confidence
Once he survived the phase, Dhoni grew in confidence. In fact, he played the two-card batting trick well against off-spinner Jeetan Patel. He rocked back to convert the length of a quicker one and bludgeoned the ball through covers.
Consequently, when Patel flighted, Dhoni charged down to strike the sphere over the bowler’s head.
Ashwin (37) batted with footwork and enterprise, dancing out to drive Patel through covers. He was finally sold the dummy by Patel who altered his length.
Left-armer Boult, who made an impression with his verve and swing, had Zaheer Khan snapped up acrobatically by ‘keeper van Wyk when he moved one away from round-the-wicket. Patel, who scalped four, was persistent but not threatening.
Then, the Indian spinners assumed centrestage.
India — 1st innings: G. Gambhir c van Wyk b Boult 22 (36b, 4x4), V. Sehwag c Guptill b Bracewell 47 (41b, 9x4), C. Pujara c Franklin b Patel 159 (306b, 19x4, 1x6), S. Tendulkar b Boult 19 (62b, 2x4), V. Kohli c Guptill b Martin 58 (107b, 8x4), S. Raina c van Wyk b Patel 3 (13b), M.S. Dhoni c Bracewell b Patel 73 (147b, 6x4, 1x6), R. Ashwin st. van Wyk b Patel 37 (54b, 5x4), Zaheer c van Wyk b Boult 0 (8b), P. Ojha (not out) 4 (28b, 1x4), U. Yadav (run out) 4 (5b, 1x4); Extras (b-6, lb-4, w-2): 12; Total (in 134.3 overs): 438.
Fall of wickets: 1-49 (Gambhir), 2-77 (Sehwag), 3-125 (Tendulkar), 4-250 (Kohli), 5-260 (Raina), 6-387 (Pujara), 7-411 (Dhoni), 8-414 (Zaheer), 9-430 (Ashwin).
New Zealand bowling: Martin 27-4-76-1, Boult 27-4-93-3, Bracewell 19.1-1-88-1, Franklin 13.2-0-40-0, Patel 41-9-100-4, Williamson 7-0-31-0.
New Zealand — 1st innings: B. McCullum c Kohli b Ojha 22 (27b, 3x4), M. Guptill c Kohli b Ashwin 2 (25b), K. Williamson c Sehwag b Ojha 32 (92b, 3x4), R. Taylor c Kohli b Ashwin 2 (14b), D. Flynn lbw b Ashwin 16 (13b, 2x4), J. Franklin (batting) 31 (75b, 1x4, 1x6), van Wyk (batting) 0 (6b); Extras (lb-1): 1; Total (for five wkts. in 42 overs): 106.
Fall of wickets: 1-25 (McCullum), 2-29 (Guptill), 3-35 (Taylor), 4-55 (Flynn), 5-99 (Williamson).
India bowling: Zaheer 5-1-20-0, Yadav 3-0-4-0, Ojha 15-4-35-2, Ashwin 14-3-30-3, Sehwag 2-0-4-0, Raina 2-0-6-0, Tendulkar 1-0-6-0.