"It was a not-so-good day for us," Ajinkya Rahane had said on Friday, after India ended the first day's play at 239 for seven. The Indian vice-captain made it clear what he thought was a good first innings score on this variable Eden Gardens' pitch, but it remained to be seen whether they would get 320.
If day one was about Indian batsmen making repeated mistakes, Saturday saw one of them putting his hand up, and wringing the match by the scruff of its neck. Playing at his home ground, Wriddhiman Saha rose to the challenge and put the game beyond New Zealand's reach.
The visitors were missing Kane Williamson; the fact wasn't lost on them that their batting order is weak in this Test, and their best chance lay in restricting India to about 250-odd. Trent Boult, Neil Wagner and Matt Henry adopted an aggressive strategy to get the Indian tail out cheaply. Except it didn't work.
India had the perfect batsmen at the crease to counter this approach. Attacking is Saha's natural game, and batting lower down the order, he has been allowed to do just this. Ravindra Jadeja too has adopted an attacking mentality in his batting of late. It was their 41-run eighth wicket stand that changed the course of this Test match.
Saha was playing on his home turf, but it was a pity that only a handful of spectators were around to watch him bat on a lazy Saturday afternoon. But an artist doesn't create his masterpiece wondering if he will get any patrons. And so, unmindful of the empty vastness that is Test cricket at Eden Gardens nowadays, Saha soldiered on.
New Zealand eventually dismissed Jadeja with the short ball. Given the unpredictable bounce, Saha too received a blow on his left forearm, a stinging delivery from Henry that he ducked into. He didn't ask for an arm guard, or the physio for that matter. He didn't lose his composure, merely deflected the ball to the boundary, for he had a job to do.
Cricketers all around the world revere Eden Gardens, so one can only imagine what it means to Saha. This has been his stepping-stone to international cricket. The inspiration in his knock was evident, as he stepped out to smack a six off Mitchell Santner to bring up India's 300 as well as his 50. In the previous series against West Indies, he had scored his maiden hundred and dug his team out of a massive hole at St Lucia. Here, in a different situation, despite the disparity in runs scored, the importance of Saha's innings cannot be undervalued.
Thereafter, it was New Zealand's weakness in batting that shone through. If the Indian top-order played a couple of loose shots, the visitors returned the favour several times over. It didn't help that they had just under half an hour to face before lunch, and it played in Kohli's hands that he could deploy his pacers for extended spells on either side of the break. and duly then, Mohammed Shami and Bhuvneshwar Kumar wreaked havoc.
Barring the Black Caps' top-order collapse though, in many aspects, this Test has unfolded in entirely the same way as the first one in Kanpur. In the first Test, rain arrived around tea-time and nearly washed out the final session of day two, the same as here. The Cricket Association of Bengal is a tad richer than the Uttar Pradesh Cricket Association, however, and as such put its better resources — huge covers and three Super Soppers — to work.
As such, when play resumed, albeit for a short period of time, India were able to exert more pressure. Kohli proved his mettle once again as a thinking captain, putting on his pacers to make use of the fresh-again pitch. It also augured well that failing light would certainly force him to deploy his spinners at some point. By that time, however, Bhuvi already did the damage with his maiden five-wicket haul on Indian soil, as New Zealand lost 3 for 43 in 9.2 overs.
Returning from injury in that same St Lucia Test, and picking a match winning five-wicket haul, the medium pacer had stressed upon the importance of fitness on his game. Thanks to the same, he is now able to work up more pace, and moving the ball at that speed makes him lethal in such conditions. Kohli has understood how he wants to use this weapon in his arsenal, and we might not see Bhuvi deployed too often, only when the conditions are right. He will never be over-bowled in a Test series again.
The Kiwis will feel hard done by, especially with the LBW decision against Luke Ronchi. But, on this day, they were up against two players who have now grown resolutely confident in their game over time.
If Saha has been a tale of freeing up the mind to allow his natural game, then with Bhuvi, it has been all about revitalization. Together, the duo turned the game for India after a near-disastrous day one.
First Published On : Oct 1, 2016 19:37 IST