Even as their pride was deeply hurt after the 10-wicket three-day defeat in the first test, Indian top-order showed what it takes to make a comeback on the opening day of the second Test against New Zealand in Christchurch on Saturday (February 29).
Hal-centuries from three batsmen, including opener Prithvi Shaw and Cheteshwar Pujara, showed the intent of the Men In Blue but their reckless shot selection took them only as far as 242 on an eventful day one.
Shaw (54) and Pujara (54) hit contrasting fifties to take the fight to the rival camp. However, Hanuma Vihari’s (55 off 70 balls) dismissal at the stroke of tea tilted the scale in New Zealand’s favour as they gained a clear upper-hand by stumps.
Kyle Jamieson (5/45) in an inspired post-tea spell blew away the middle and lower-order to finish with his maiden five-wicket haul in only his second Test.
The hosts ended the day at 63 for no loss with both the Tom Latham (27 batting) and Blundell (29 batting) hardly troubled by Indian pacers.
The pitch will be best for batting on days two and three which means that for Virat Kohli and his men, the catch-up game starts from the second day itself as the ignominy of a 0-2 series loss looms large.
On a green-top, three Indian batsmen showed that scoring runs weren’t difficult.
Shah’s lunging drive after his second half-century in Tests and Vihari and Pujara’s ill-timed pull shots were a testimony that their dismissals were more about profligacy than New Zealand’s bowling.
Rishabh Pant, who has been preferred over a much-accomplished Wriddhiman Saha, purely on batting skills, played a lazy shot to find his stumps rattled.
From 194 for four with a standard first innings total of 350 looking imminent, India lost five wickets for 22 runs in a period of six overs and it could well have a decisive impact in the final outcome of the contest.
Jamieson, in his post-tea spell, got rid of Pujara, Pant and Umesh Yadav in quick succession as India lost a golden opportunity to press home the advantage.
The 32 boundaries and three sixes with a run-rate of 3.84 in 63 overs will not able to tell the story of how Indians fluffed their lines during the day.
The immensely talented Shaw displayed improved footwork that saw him drive elegantly as the likes of Trent Boult (2/89) and Colin de Grandhomme (0/31) were guilty of over-pitching in trying to get some swing.
There were square drives and a few on-drives while he also played and missed a few. He did live dangerously but more importantly, had the scoreboard ticking even when Pujara was stuck at the other end.
Neil Wagner bowled a bouncer and Shaw hooked him for maximum to reach his half-century. Having added 50 runs with Pujara, the senior partner should have ideally calmed the inexperienced one, who instead of playing for lunch, lunged at a fuller delivery from Jamieson to be brilliantly caught by Latham.
Kohli’s poor tour just got worse when Tim Southee (2/38) got one to shape in slightly finding him plumb in-front. Ajinkya Rahane jabbed with limited footwork as Pujara looked more assured about his off-stump even as he hit occasional drives but mostly holding one end up.
It was young Vihari, who changed the course by counter-attacking the trio of Boult, Southee, and Wagner in a quick time.
Interestingly, when Pujara was on 49, Vihari was on 13 and by the time he got out for 55, having hit 10 boundaries, India’s number three was on 53.
Vihari looked comfortably against Wagner as he played a slash over point to complete his fifty and then another pull-shot off the very next delivery. But Vihari played one shot too many as Wagner bowled a slow bouncer to take him out of equation.
Once India came out to bat after tea, Jamieson changed the tactic from bowling fuller to his usual back of the length line that could create disconcerting bounce or the batsmen.
Pujara got a good bouncer and there was no balance while going for the pull-shot. Indian innings was in total disarray by then and result was another day where stars promised a lot and delivered too little.
(With inputs from agencies)