After early dents the visitors fail to seize the initiative; Rutherford Ishant’s 150th Test wicket
The opportunity for India appeared and disappeared in a flash. Kane Williamson edged an away-seamer from Mohammed Shami and Murali Vijay, at first slip, grassed a sitter.
Williamson was on 32 and New Zealand, under considerable pressure, at 76 for three. It was Thursday’s turning point at the Eden Park.
The score was 251 when the fourth wicket fell. During that period Williamson and skipper Brendon McCullum notched up stroke-filled centuries.
And their fourth wicket association of 221 in just over 50 overs could have a huge bearing on the match.
Indeed, the opening day of the first Test saw India failing to seize the initiative after winning the toss and making early dents under a cloud-cover, on a pitch doing a fair bit.
By afternoon, the ground was bathed in sunshine. The Indian attack, losing bite, turned wayward on a track that favoured the batsmen more. And the fielders were chasing leather.
Driven by hundreds from Williamson (113) and McCullum (143 batting), New Zealand ended day one on a comfortable 329 for four.
McCullum and Corey Anderson (42 not out) — the left-hander’s batting was controlled but still full of intent — strung together an unbeaten partnership of 78 to consolidate New Zealand’s position.
Apart from the tireless Ishant Sharma, much of the bowling was ordinary. There were too many ill-advised short deliveries in the afternoon and the last session; these were put away easily by Williamson and McCullum.
Senior paceman Zaheer Khan operated at a below par 120-130 kmph range for most part; his customary accuracy was missing too.
Failing to bowl in partnerships or build stress, the Indians leaked runs. The Kiwis cashed in.
McCullum is a batsman with tremendous hand-eye coordination. Given the slightest of width, he was able to cut and punch the Indian pacemen for boundaries.
And the short-pitched deliveries were hooked and pulled contemptuously by the 32-year-old batsman.
McCullum reached his eighth Test hundred by sashaying down the track and easing left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja over long-off for the maximum.
The Indian pacemen missed a trick by not pitching the ball up to McCullum more and drawing him into a drive.
The 23-year-old Williamson is a class act. His distribution of weight enhancing stroke-play, the right-hander timed his strokes off either foot.
His flowing front-footed off-drive off Zaheer scorched the turf and the back-footed punch off Shami left the fielders standing.
Williamson was also severe on anything short; Shami and Zaheer were hooked and pulled.
A studious batsman, he opened up his stance a tad against left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja to give himself a full view of the turn from leg to off. He drove the left-armer on both sides, gave him the charge and back-cut him with panache.
Against footwork of this high order, Jadeja appeared innocuous.
Williamson was dismissed against the run of play, nicking a harmless delivery outside leg from Zaheer.
From an Indian perspective, Ishant’s pre-lunch spell of 6-2-8-2 was the high point.
The lanky paceman extracted lift and away movement from back of a length. Ishant consistently hit the seam; his bowing was marked by precision.
The extra bounce consumed left-handed opener Hamish Rutherford; the Kiwi was held acrobatically at gully by Ajinkya Rahane. This was Ishant’s 150th Test wicket.
The Delhi paceman soon scalped the big one — the in-form Ross Taylor — with a good length delivery that was not quite there for the drive. The miscued hit was picked by Jadeja at short mid-off, stationed specifically for the stroke.
In the morning, opener Peter Fulton went through a harrowing phase, being put down in the cordon by Shikhar Dhawan off Zaheer and then surviving a vociferous leg-before appeal when Shami appeared to have nailed him with an off-cutter.
His rather high back-lift comes down from third man and makes Fulton vulnerable to movement.
Eventually, Zaheer took out the tentative Fulton by straightening a delivery into the right-hander.
Dhoni’s astonishing luck with the toss continued — he won his sixth in a row on this tour.
But then, in cricket you also make your own luck. A clean-shaven McCullum did that at the Eden Park with an influential captain’s innings.
New Zealand — 1st innings: P. Fulton lbw b Zaheer Khan 13 (35b, 2x4), H. Rutherford c Rahane b Ishant Sharma 6 (30b, 1x4), K. Williamson c Dhoni b Zaheer Khan 113 (172b, 10x4, 2x6), L. Taylor c Jadeja b Ishant Sharma 3 (15b), B. McCullum (batting) 143 (210b, 18x4, 2x6), C. Anderson (batting) 42 (78b, 5x4, 1x6), Extras (b-1, lb-5, w-3) 9; Total (for four wkts in 90 overs) 329.
Fall of wickets: 1-19 (Rutherford), 2-23 (Fulton), 3-30 (Taylor), 4-251 (Williamson).
India bowling: Mohammed Shami 22-6-66-0, Zaheer Khan 23-2-98-2, Ishant Sharma 21-4-62-2, Ravindra Jadeja 20-1-81-0, Virat Kohli 1-0-4-0, Rohit Sharma 3-0-12-0.