Good thing third man was paying attention!
The first real test for India’s World Test Championship leader tag has begun in Wellington.
New Zealand did everything right today. They picked the right team, won the toss and have India five down for 122 at the close of first day’s play.
If you are a long-time Indian fan, this is pretty much the scorecard you would have woken up to more often than not for the past 30 years or so. India getting sent in on a green top, losing their top order to a new fast bowler and then amd the rest of tour is pretty much catch up cricket.
Unlike in the past, the difference now is that India has a second act.
Before we get into the actual day’s play, let us look at how the teams are stacked up. New Zealand has picked up a solid line up that bats to number 8 and has five bowlers. They have picked the team along expected lines.
On the other hand, India has gone in with seven batsmen and four bowlers. There was much debate about Wriddhiman Saha’s exclusion from the team. Even the diplomatic Harsha Bhogle posted a straightforward tweet criticising the team management for favouring a batsman wicketkeeper in Rishabh Pant over a specialist wicketkeeper-batsman in Saha.
Simon Doull gave the best possible reason for why Kohli has gone with Pant instead of Saha. He said that on this playing surface which favours seamers, he doesn’t think Pant is a bad pick. However, he was vehement that had this been a spinning pitch like in the sub-continent, he would have gone with Saha.
So, there has been some logical thought behind the decision. However, my only question is has Pant done enough in the past with the bat to prove that he is a better batsman than Saha? My answer is no.
However, in this match, Pant is still not out and can prove his critics wrong on the second day.
Coming to the day’s play, the pitch at the Basin Reserve was green with live grass on top and dampness underneath. Given those conditions, the New Zealand bowlers didn’t run through the Indian top-order until the arrival of the first change in Kyle Jamieson.
Looking at Jamieson’s bowling during the ODI series, it was clear to many that he will pose a significant danger to Indian batsmen in Tests.
Jamieson bowled smartly, generated seam movement when pitched up and awkward bounce when he pitched slightly short. The way he set up Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli to eventually get them out showed that he is a man for the future. Ajinkya Rahane was the only Indian batsman to show the composure that was needed to play on this surface.
He left as many deliveries as he could and played the rest close to his body. Kohli could have taken this approach to his batting.
The way he got out reminded me of that horrible series in England, going fishing at the sixth stump. From 122 for 5, India will look to get as close to 200 as possible. Many of the cricketing experts feel that any score of over 200 will keep India in the game.
As I had mentioned at the beginning of this piece, this Indian team does have a second act. The fast bowlers Ishant Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami will enjoy bowling on this surface and will hope to pick up wickets in a heap.
This Test match is probably the first time that this trio of bowlers is going to bowl together on a very green top.
It will be a big test for the Kiwis when they come out to bat. So, the Test match is far from over and the Kiwis will know it.
Most pundits reckon that the first innings of both the team might cancel each other, leaving the match to be a battle of the second innings.