In a pulsating Test of such fortune swings and emotions, it can be hard to pick a point where the match changed course on the decisive fourth day.
But then, it had to be Virat Kohli’s dismissal and the manner of it.
Striking the ball with supreme confidence until that point, Kohli (67) went after a short-pitched Neil Wagner delivery wide outside off, attempting a pull. All he managed was a bottom edge that was splendidly snapped up by ‘keeper Bradley Watling low down. It was a waste of a wicket.
Before the delivery, India, pursuing 407, was on top at 222 for two. Kohli and Shikhar Dhawan (115), who resurrected his India career with a century of patience and sound shot-selection, had added 126 for the third wicket.
The Kiwis seemed to be running out of gas but everything changed after Kohli walked back.
Despite flashes of brilliance, including a fierce counter-attack by M.S. Dhoni and Ravindra Jadeja, India consistently lost ground to lose its last seven wickets for 118 runs.
New Zealand regrouped on a firm surface that continued to offer some bounce and movement to win a tense first Test by 40 runs at Eden Park here on Sunday. The host leads 1-0 in the two-Test series.
The Kiwis found their heroes when it mattered. Left-arm paceman Wagner, all heart and commitment, hit the pitch hard from both over and round the wicket, sending down some testing lifting deliveries in the process.
One such delivery – a mean short-pitched ball delivered from round the wicket – accounted for the determined Dhawan. Replays, however, were not clear about the ball kissing the southpaw’s gloves.
Tim Southee snared key right-hander Cheteshwar Pujara with a peach of a delivery that bounced and left the batsman from the off-stump in the morning. Then, his away swinger first up after tea, found the edge of Rohit Sharma’s blade.
Left-arm paceman Trent Boult, off-colour for most part, rediscovered his mojo with the second new ball.
Cat & mouse game
Sunday’s cricket was also about tactics; a cat and mouse game of sorts. The Indians comprehended they had to put runs on the board while minimising the loss of wickets before the crucial second new ball was due. Leg-spinner Ish Sodhi, knocked off his length, was taken for runs.
India was 268 for four after 80 overs, requiring 139 more, when the second new ball came into play.
Boult brought the first delivery in sharply to the right-handed Ajinkya Rahane. Umpire Steve Davis upheld the appeal but the ball had hit the pad off a thick inside edge.
Looking back, this umpiring error could have altered the fate of the game too. The verdict swung the momentum New Zealand’s way at the very start of India’s battle against the second new ball.
To regain initiative, Dhoni (39) and Jadeja (26) blazed away, often thumping the ball straight. The Kiwis were rattled but Jadeja failed to show common sense by not consolidating after disrupting the New Zealand attack.
The left-hander charged Boult and was picked up at mid-on. The lack of maturity in this Indian line-up was evident.
When Dhoni played on to a bouncer by Wagner, the contest was all but over. Wagner, trying to create the angle, came perilously close to cutting the side crease but the delivery was ruled legal.
Dhawan’s second Test hundred went unrewarded. He might have been fortunate with the Brendon McCullum drop on seven but this was a career defining innings for Dhawan. The left-hander cut out the frills and impressed with firm drives in front of the wicket. He cut and pulled only when the length demanded.
Watling’s six catches in the Indian second innings is the most by a ‘keeper in the fourth innings of a Test.