The often temperamental Jesse Ryder exorcised the demons within with a combative 103 under pressure at the Sardar Patel Stadium here on Saturday.
And 20-year-old debutant Kane Williamson was unbeaten on 87, an innings that dripped with character.
The rousing 194-run partnership between Ryder and Williamson for the fifth wicket enabled New Zealand, replying to India's 487, reach a respectable 331 for five at stumps on day three. The series opener is no mismatch.
In the day's dramatic final over, Ryder drummed his chest proudly after smashing Sreesanth through covers to notch up his third Test hundred. Then, the paceman hit back with a delivery that pitched on off and straightened to win a leg-before decision against the left-hander.
For most part, the Indian bowling was undone by the left-right combination. Forced to switch line, the attack came up short.
Ryder, though, was fortunate on 11 when he slashed at Sreesanth and saw Rahul Dravid grassing the offering at a widish slip. He made the reprieve count.
The beefy southpaw's drives off either foot through covers were effortless. When Zaheer pitched short, he pulled. Ryder swept Harbhajan and waltzed down the pitch before lofting the off-spinner over the long-on fence. He also sashayed down the track before wristing Ojha over mid-wicket.
Ryder concentrated hard, was decisive in his footwork and displayed a broad blade in defence. He was hampered by a muscle strain in the latter stages – Ross Taylor came in as his runner – but held firm.
Williamson, hemmed in by close-in catchers, displayed outstanding temperament. He picked the length quickly and moved his feet appropriately. He was poised in both defence and offence, cut and punched through covers with panache, worked the ball of his legs.
There is a natural flow to his batting that is hard to ignore.
The Kiwi might have got a reprieve from umpire Kumar Dharmasena on 56 when he appeared to have nicked Zaheer into Dhoni's gloves but this was a day when Williamson seemed to have earned his luck. As the day wore on, he gained in stature.
While the Kiwis deserve their share of credit, the Indians spinners disappointed. Harbhajan tended to push the ball through quicker and often pitched short to be cut and driven. On those occasions, when he bowled slower through the air, his flight lacked dip. He failed to make an impact while bowling round the wicket to the left-handed Ryder; Harbhajan appeared predictable.
The pitch continued to play slow – the sizable footmarks have still not developed into roughs – and Ojha too lacked accuracy that builds stress and produces wickets. Worse, he tended to stray on the leg-side.
New Zealand was not lacking in determined partnerships. Coming together at 27 for two, Brendon McCullum and Ross Taylor added 104 crucial runs for the fourth wicket. Both put a lid on their naturally aggressive game, were judicious in stroke selection.
Between periods of compact defence, McCullum employed the pull stroke, drove handsomely between mid-off and cover.
Taylor (56) put mind over matter. Of course when Harbhajan pitched short, the quick-footed batsman with fast hands employed his trade-mark cut. The New Zealander appeared good for more when he uppishly flicked a flighted Harbhajan delivery from round the wicket to V.V.S. Laxman at short mid-wicket.
McCullum (65) was consumed by flight, dip and slight away spin as he pushed forward at Ojha. The Kiwi's foot was on the line as Dhoni whipped off the bails. The Indian captain, creditably, battled fever to bat and then keep wickets.
New Zealand (Ist innings): T. McIntosh c Dhoni b Zaheer 0 (10b), B. McCullum st Dhoni b Ojha 65 (122b, 11x4), B.J. Watling b Ojha 6 (22b, 1x4), R. Taylor c Laxman b Harbhajan 56 (124b, 6x4), J. Ryder lbw b Sreesanth 103 (205b, 10x4, 1x6), K. Williamson (batting) 87, Extras (b-1, lb-9, nb-4) 14, Total (for five wickets in 117.3 overs) 331.
Fall of wickets: 1-8 (McIntosh), 2-27 (Watling), 3-131 (Taylor), 4-137 (McCullum), 5-331 (Ryder).
India bowling: Zaheer 19-6-38-1, Sreesanth 17.3-1-70-1, Ojha 38-8-80-2, Harbhajan 34-7-90-1, Sehwag 1-0-7-0, Raina 6-0-20-0, Tendulkar 2-0-16-0.
Keywords: India-New Zealand Test series