Wednesday 12 February 2014 

Match Point: Another Thriller In Auckland

Mohammad Shami
Chetan saw Mohammad Shami (left) being handed the ball at a critical moment by MS Dhoni as an important message
© REUTERS / Action Images
 

After that epic tie in the One-Day International series, who would have thought the pint-sized Eden Park with a drop-in pitch would produce another thrilling contest?

New Zealand won the first Test against India by 40 runs. For four days, the match ebbed and flowed, with many ups and downs, as the hosts took a 1-0 lead in the series.

Brendon McCullum scored his second Test double-hundred and Kane Williamson finally got that hundred he had been threatening to score, as New Zealand raked up 503 runs, despite a six-wicket haul by Ishant Sharma.

Then they bowled India out for 202 runs, taking 301-run lead. The Indian bowling finally woke up from its deep slumber and showed what they can actually capable of, but do it rarely, as they bowled the Black Caps out for only 105 runs in the second innings. The chase of 407 runs looked on for quite a while, before India were bowled out for 366, wasting Shikhar Dhawan’s fine hundred.

Contest of the Test: Ishant Sharma took nine wickets in the match. In comparison, Mohammad Shami took only four. Yet there was an uncertainty about his spells, whenever the New Zealand batsmen faced him. He hit a perfect natural length on a pitch that was troubling the batsmen when the ball was hard and new, using the bounce in the first innings and when the Indian fielding stepped up in the second innings, he created pressure that resulted in wickets, if not for him then for others.

He beat the bat regularly and was the toughest Indian bowler on display in the best batting conditions. Even as Brendon McCullum hit a double-hundred and the Black Caps crossed the 500-run mark, it goes to show that among the four front-line bowlers deployed by Dhoni, Shami was the only one not to concede 100 runs.

In five Tests since his debut against the West Indies in November 2013, Shami has taken 21 wickets. Out of these, he has bowled batsmen 13 times and has another three successful LBW appeals.

It hints at a control of line and length that is sometimes found lacking in other bowlers, say Ishant, who despite his nine-wicket haul in this first Test is yet to achieve the consistency of a bowler who has played 54 Tests for India. 

Shami was handed the new ball first, rather than Zaheer at the start of the Test and then again in the second innings. It could have been coincidence, since the Indian captain likes to play around with bowlers from different ends. 

But then, there was this moment on day one, 10 minutes before lunch, when New Zealand were reeling at three wickets down for less than 50 runs on board. India were looking to press home their advantage and Dhoni made a bowling change. Zaheer came in from his fielding position, looking for the ball, but was sent back. Shami was the captain’s choice.

Player of the Test: It is difficult to look past McCullum for this one. Scoring a double-hundred is never easy, particularly when your team is down at 30 for three in the morning session with a seaming pitch under overcast conditions.

To top it off he hadn’t been in a good run-scoring form leading into this Test. This is what reflected in his innings of 224 runs.

He was sedate at first, rotating the strike in a bid to survive and stay at the wicket. The fact that Williamson has been in such blistering form perhaps helped him, as they put on 221 runs for the fourth wicket.

It was only after McCullum had scored his hundred that he changed gears, as batting became easy; he read the script perfectly. He had shaved in a bid to win his first toss of this Indian trip, but perhaps ended up changing his rotten luck with the bat instead.

Match Point: McCullum had pointed out that Cheteshwar Pujara was the most vital wicket for them, since ‘he can bat for weeks’. But the thing about the Indian batting is that they are all very dangerous on their day.

As Dhawan found form, Virat Kohli gave him able support in the middle. While the former was watchful, a change in his approach given the poor form he has been suffering, Kohli kept the scoreboard ticking. During the 126 runs they scored together, it seemed that the match would end inside four days, with India completing a stunning turnaround win.

It was all very fragile though, as Kohli got out to a nothing shot, choosing a very wide delivery from Neil Wagner to go after. Then, the collapse began, and the match did finish in four days, only with the result that India lost again.

The Basin Reserve, Wellington

Looking Ahead: The match had many turnarounds, with New Zealand looking in control only for India to fight hard and come back at them. This has been the story of the tour so far, as the visitors are still winless with one match remaining.

Two days before the second Test begins in Wellington, the Basin Reserve square (above) was covered with grass and the groundsmen are not keen on shaving it off.

With both sets of bowlers doing so well, and the confidence New Zealand batsmen are carrying combined with the investment India has made in their own batting line-up, this is another mouth-watering contest in prospect.

© Cricket World 2014

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Fixtures & Results

19th January: 1st ODI, McLean Park, Napier
NZL 292-7 beat IND 268 by 24 runs
22nd January: 2nd ODI, Seddon Park, Hamilton
NZL 271-7 beat IND 277-9 by 15 runs (D/L)
28th January: 4th ODI, Seddon Park, Hamilton
NZL 280-3 beat IND 278-5 by 7 wickets
6th-10th February: 1st Test, Eden Park, Auckland
NZL 503 & 105 beat IND 202 & 366 by 40 runs
14th-18th February: 2nd Test, The Basin Reserve, Wellington
NZL 192 & 680-8d. drew with IND 438 & 166-3