If you had asked Virat Kohli at the end of day two what an ideal start for India would be on day three to force their way back into the first Test, he would have probably said: a wicket or two in the first 20 minutes and BJ Watling back in the pavilion by then.
With the first ball of the day, Jasprit Bumrah sent crisis-man Watling back and soon after Tim Southee was dismissed too. At 225/7, Kohli had every reason to believe his side was not just back in the match, but in a position to drive things forward.
As it turned out, at the end of the ‘moving day,’ where time seemed to stand still at times in an attritional final session, India were left fighting to save the game rather than dictate proceedings. The visitors were on 144/4 at stumps, trailing New Zealand by 39 runs and in need of a miracle to win or even save the match:
Here are the talking points from an absorbing day of Test cricket in Wellington:
Indian fans were treated to a familiar sight on Sunday: the opposition’s tail wagging in a Test match. Granted, these days cricketers hate being called tailenders and it is patronising to think they should just fold while batting. Most good teams boast of a strong lower order, as the correct term goes, and pride on extending their batting innings.
But 123 runs for the last three wickets? That’s not just something that could be brushed aside as a part of modern cricket.
Not for the first time in an overseas Test (remember Sam Curran?) India were guilty of letting the opponent’s bowlers enjoy their stints with the bat. All Indian bowlers were guilty of going away from their Plan A, trying bouncers and yorkers instead of persisting with lengths for periods. Kyle Jamieson, all of 6ft 8in, was more than happy to put away the bouncers for sixes and fours during his brilliant innings. As was Trent Boult later in the innings. Even Ashwin Ravichandran did not succeed in beating them with his flight early enough in his spell. As a result, India ended up conceding 183 runs as first innings lead.
There’s a reason why their record since 2018 is the worst when it comes to dismissing the opponent’s lower order.
Boult and Beautiful
For a cricketer whose bowling is one of the most graceful sights in the game, Trent Boult is as agricultural as a tailender could be with the bat in hand. And on Sunday in Wellington, he wielded is bat like a sickle at harvest time, cutting and ploughing his way to an entertaining 24-ball 38, scoring 100% of the runs in the last-wicket stand. There is never a dull moment when Boult the batsman gets going and his cameo, along with Jamieson’s, took the game away from India’s grasps.
And later, when there were discussions on air about whether he should be the one making way for Neil Wagner in the next Test instead of debutante Jamieson, Boult stepped up his game with the ball in hand as he has so often done for the Black Caps in Test cricket. His 3/27, that included wickets of a tentative Prithvi Shaw, a stubborn Cheteshwar Pujara and, most importantly, a nervy Virat kohli, put India firmly on the backfoot.
Kohli fails to heed his own advice
“It doesn’t matter how much patience opposition has, we have to show more patience. We can’t really prepare in a manner where New Zealand show more patience and put pressure on us.”
Those were Kohli’s words in the pre-series press conference. He knew, obviously, what this New Zealand side was capable of. Their wins at home are often characterised by striking regularly with the ball in the first innings, followed by patient outsmarting of batsmen in the second innings when batting tends to gets easier in New Zealand pitches.
But knowing is one thing and tackling it another, as Kohli showed on Sunday when his mini-slump continued.
New Zealand started off with a barrage of length balls on the fourth stump line for Kohli. The Indian captain struggled early when he got away with a couple of false shots but soon he settled in, started leaving balls as well as he had done in England in 2018.
Soon the barrage of short balls started, and not just for Kohli. He managed well for a while, ducking when he had to, shouldering arms at other times. Patient, he was but not long enough. One moment of recklessness, one rush of blood: that was all Boult needed to send Kohli walking back.
In the battle of patience, Boult and New Zealand outlasted Kohli in Wellington.
From wherever Neil Wagner was watching this innings, he would have been proud of his teammates. Each and every one of his fellow pacers lived up to the standards we have come to expect from the left-arm pacer as they peppered India with short balls once the first few overs were done.
With the pace of the pitch easing up, New Zealand decided to try something different and were relentless with their execution of the short-ball strategy, even going around the wickets and employing the leg-theory. Only Mayank Agarwal could counter it on the day and even he was done in by the one-two punch of bouncers-followed-by-a-full-ball, though his dismissal had an element of bad luck associated with it.
Visiting teams know that New Zealand will come hard at them with this plan every now and then This is no surprise ploy, but it is a mighty effective one. Ajinkya Rahane and Hanuma Vihari showed the patience needed in the final session but their stubborn 118-ball stand for 31 runs showed that they can perhaps play for time but runs are not going to be easy. And as things stand, time is New Zealand’s ally.
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