The Indian batsmen put up yet another day of poor performance to give New Zealand an upper hand at the end of third days play in the first Test in Wellington on Sunday (February 23).
The top-order batsmen caught between over-cautiousness and impetuosity placed the Kiwi bowlers on the driver’s seat when India reached 144 for 4 in their second innings at stumps after failing to tackle Trent Boult’s (3/27 in 16 overs) high-quality swing bowling.
India now trail New Zealand by 39 runs going into the fourth day, which could well be the final day of this game unless Ajinkya Rahane (25 batting, 67 balls) and Hanuma Vihari (15 batting, 70 balls) show the art of survival that was distinctly lacking in some of the other top-order batsmen.
After New Zealand’s tail wagged big time to post a good first innings total of 348, the deficit of 183 understandably put India under severe pressure.
If Cheteshwar Pujara (11 off 81 balls) paid for his ultra-defensive mindset shouldering arms to an indipper, skipper Virat Kohli’s (19 off 43 balls) split second indiscretion became his undoing as he went for a needless pull-shot to a well-disguised short ball.
Mayank Agarwal (58 off 99 balls) was impressive in one session and lost concentration in the second, ditto to what happened on the first day and was caught down the leg-side.
The bowler on both the occasion was Boult, who successfully took over the job of tormenting the Indian batsmen from Tim Southee (1/41 in 15 overs) and Kyle Jamieson (0/33 in 17 overs). It was a top-class seam and swing bowling show on a third-day pitch, which still had something for fast bowlers.
Boult bowled with a lot of fire as he exposed Prithvi Shaws (14 off 30 balls) poor technique, laying a trap for the opener. A short ball hurried the flamboyant Mumbaikar, whose huge back-lift became his undoing.
By the time the ball grew big on him, he was fending it awkwardly with a closed bat and at the short square-leg, Tom Latham was waiting gleefully for that chance.
It was pretty similar to his dismissal to Scott Kugggeleijn in the warm-up game, the only difference being the pace of the short ball which was a tad quicker then.
Pujara and Agarwal did add 51 runs for the second wicket but it was largely because of the Karnataka opener, who played his shots and showed positive intent. He, in fact, hit Ajaz Patel for a six and a four but Pujara at the other end only looked keen on defending.
Just like first innings, Pujara was leaving balls on length but at one stage, he was stuck on a personal score of 6 for 28 consecutive balls. While leaving Jamieson from length wasn’t an issue, Pujara didn’t account for Boult, shouldering arms a delivery that came in sharply.
In the first session, Kyle Jamieson continued with his dream debut as he and No 11 Trent Boult belted the Indian bowlers for fun to stretch New Zealand’s lead above the 175-run mark.
Ishant Sharma (5/68 in 22.2 overs) remained the stand-out bowler for India. Ravichandran Ashwin (3/99) also got a couple of wickets in the morning but not before getting a bit lot of stick from the tail-enders who were in the lookout for quick runs.
Jamieson’s 45-ball knock had four towering sixes. He added 71 runs for the eighth wicket with Colin de Grandhomme (43 off 74 balls) in just under 15 overs.
Boult (38 off 24 balls) had some real fun in the end and by that time, the shoulders of the Indian bowling attack had dropped and they were able to read the writing on the wall.
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(With inputs from agencies)