India were all out for 438 in the final session, with Rahane scoring 118 from 158 deliveries.
The little Ajinkya Rahane grew in stature at the Basin Reserve here on Saturday.
Rahane’s equanimity complemented his balance at the crease. While he struck the ball with the sweet portion of his willow, he also timed his performance brilliantly for India.
The 25-year-old Mumbai right-hander’s engaging 118 – his maiden Test century – took India to a position of strength on the second day of the first Test.
India progressed to 438, gaining a lead of 246. Zaheer Khan then won a marginal leg-before decision against Peter Fulton as New Zealand ended the day at 24 for one in its second innings.
The 120-run partnership for the seventh wicket between Rahane and a marauding M.S. Dhoni (68) swung the match India’s way.
The Indian skipper changed the tempo of the game, in the balance till that point. The second new ball was counter-attacked and New Zealand ran out of answers.
The pitch eased out on a sunny day and the Indians cashed in. In more batsman-friendly conditions, the customary discipline of the New Zealand attack was absent. And the runs flowed.
Rahane found the gaps with precision, his wrists coming into play at the last instance to guide the ball through the open spaces.
His front foot play – depending on the length – was solid. Rahane displayed a full face of the willow.
And his transfer of weight on to his back leg was quite effortless. When Trent Boult dropped one slightly short, he was crashed to the point fence.
Rahane is also someone who has worked on his technique. He has a rather pronounced back-lift but the bat comes down straight. An easier back swing has been critical to his success.
His straight-drive off James Neesham screamed for attention. And the cover-drive off Tim Southee was gorgeous.
Dhoni’s blitzkrieg shook the Kiwis. His onslaught on India’s first Test tormentor Wagner was furious. The Indian captain powerfully cover-drove the left-armer, slashed him, essayed the pull and then bludgeoned the ball past the bowler – all in one over.
When Dhoni stepped down to Boult and thwacked him to the cover-point fence and then jumped out to strike Southee over long-off for the maximum, his intent to disrupt the length of the Kiwi pacemen was clear.
Dhoni’s thrill-a-minute innings ended when he gloved a short pitched delivery from Boult to the ‘keeper.
There were quick-fire efforts from Ravindra Jadeja and Zaheer Khan – he was caught off Wagner but third umpire penalised the bowler for a back-foot no-ball - to further swell India’s lead.
Rahane eventually fell to a sensational one-handed diving catch by Boult in the out-field.
In the morning, Dhawan continued from where he left on Friday, striking the ball with authority. His aggression was calculated, not pre-meditated.
The left-hander, unlike several sub-continental batsmen, does not commit himself to the front-foot.
Dhawan cut Corey Anderson when provided with some width. He timed Southee down the ground.
Dhawan misses century
A century in successive Tests seemed imminent when Southee angled one across the southpaw. Dhawan was drawn into a fatal drive.
The 52-run association for the third wicket between Dhawan and night-watchman Ishant Sharma (26) frustrated the Kiwis.
Boult, finally, forced the dogged Ishant to edge one for ‘keeper Watling to come up with an alert catch.
Rohit Sharma did not last long, dragging a full length delivery from Neesham outside off on to his stumps. In a vital phase, this was a wicket given away. Debutant Nesham has possibilities. He has a good wind-up, a strong release and generates good speeds for a support seamer.
India required a partnership and Rahane joined Virat Kohli.
Kohli (38) appeared in good touch. There is an economy of movement in his batting that makes his shot-making crisp. But then, Kohli fell into an off-side trap. Wagner fired one from wide of the crease, changing the angle. Kohli, going for a drive, was held at short cover.
Nevertheless the 63-run sixth wicket association between Kohli and Rahane enabled India edge ahead.
Then, Dhoni entered the scene. The game turned on its head.