India were left ruing their profligate batting on day one of the first Test match in Kanpur, as New Zealand maneuvred themselves into a very strong position at the end of the second day's play.
From 154 for one at one stage, India stumbled to 277 for nine on day one. Only a 10th wicket stand between Ravindra Jadeja and Umesh Yadav on saw the hosts push past 300 on the second morning.
Having someone with three first-class triple hundreds batting at No 9 is a nice luxury to have, and it was Jadeja's counter attacking 42 that took India to their eventual total of 318. But this innings from Jadeja is the exception rather than the norm. This was his highest score since he made his one and only Test match fifty back in July 2014 at Lord's against England. He has the talent to do better, but he is in the side for his bowling more than his batting and as a result he will be forgiven.
And Jadeja bowled pretty well. He got turn and bounce on a helpful surface. In fact, he was hugely unlucky not to get a wicket when Tom Latham sweeped a ball onto his foot and into the chest of KL Rahul at forward short leg. The catch was taken but it brushed Rahul's helmet. As a result the ball was considered "dead" and the wicket did not count. Cricket — a sport where a catch off a batsman's boot counts, but one that hits a fielder's helmet does not. Great, isn't it?
In fact, all the Indian bowlers did well. The spinners got turn, a lot more turn than the New Zealand tweakers. The seamers got the ball to move early on and it was Yadav who got the only breakthrough when he swung a ball into Martin Guptill that trapped the opener leg before.
Guptill has never really cracked Test cricket, and his record in these conditions is far from impressive. He is averaging just 20 in matches in Asia. New Zealand can ill afford to give the India pacers any in-roads into their middle order with the threat of spin still to come. But that is exactly what Guptill provided for the hosts early on in New Zealand's innings.
From there it was the Kane Williamson show, as is so often the case these days. In recent times, when Australia, West Indies and South Africa toured India, it has been a parade of wickets as Ravichandran Ashwin, Jadeja and Amit Mishra ran riot. Williamson had other ideas. Well, he had one idea, the one he always has, which is just to bat all day.
His form is bordering on the ridiculous, such is its longevity and consistency. In the last two years, he has played 19 Test matches, scored over 2,000 runs at an average of 77; he has made seven hundreds in that time and 10 fifties. And everything looks so easy and beautiful. It's all late cuts, languid drives and elegant sweeps. It is basically a batting masterclass, except Ian Ward isn't there asking him questions.
Williamson could have gone when on 56, when he seemed to under-edge a ball off Jadeja through to Wriddihman Saha. There was certainly a noise that sounded like an edge and there were a few things it could have been other than bat. However, India refuse to have the Decision Review System (DRS), and as a result they could not ask the third umpire to look at it in detail. The BCCI's continued refusal to accept DRS is harming their team and the game in general. Hopefully, Virat Kohli and his charges will push the administrators at the BCCI for change sooner rather than later.
The visitors went through the whole of the middle session without losing a wicket, making it the first session of the match that did not see a dismissal, when rain arrived and brought a premature end to proceedings. This was New Zealand's day and the way Latham and Williamson batted was a perfect example of how to go about things on this surface. They had some luck but they applied themselves in a way that India's top order did not.
It is still a long way to go for New Zealand to overhaul India's total, they aren't even halfway there yet. But for the first time since England toured in 2012, it looks as if India will be given a challenge in home Tests, especially if Williamson can continue his stellar form and gets support from the rest of his colleagues. The visitors have shown enough with bat and ball in the first two days of this match to suggest that this series could be a close one.
New Zealand will resume on 152 for one on Saturday, with two well-set batsmen. If they can avoid the collapses that were a feature of India's first innings, they could get a lead in this match that may be telling. The last time New Zealand won a Test in India was 28 years ago. On current evidence it won't be long before they have another victory.
First Published On : Sep 23, 2016 17:33 IST