Eagles hovered menacingly as New Zealand took to the field ready to face an Indian batting onslaught on a placid surface, but the eagles had all but disappeared by afternoon as Kyle Jamieson and – to a lesser extent – Tim Southee prevented India’s top order from blossoming as expected. It took an enterprising alliance between Shreyas Iyer, on debut, and Ravindra Jadeja in the final session to put India back on course for a commanding first-innings total.
India was 258 for 4 by the end of the day’s play, Shreyas (75 n.o., 136b) and Jadeja (50 n.o., 100b) unseparated after adding 113 runs.
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Coming out to bat in the 38th over, at the fall of the wicket of Cheteshwar Pujara, Shreyas took his chances from the get go, as if making a decisive statement on the question of “intent.” He attempted a lofted, inside-out stroke to left-arm spinner Ajaz Patel early on in his innings and nearly holed out to mid-off. But he settled down soon after and saw off a probing spell from Tim Southee, before opening up late afternoon, collaring the spinners. He paid the third spinner in the New Zealand line-up – Rachin Ravindra – particular attention, taking risks off his bowling to collect a few boundaries. His cut stroke in the 64th over of the innings was particularly risky – he exposed all the three stumps to cut a delivery that wasn’t too short.
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The crowd had found its voice by then as the home team was finally strolling along. Shreyas reached his half-century with a nice on-drive off Southee for a single, and celebrated it in the next over with a delightful late cut off Ajaz. A little while later, he nearly lost his wicket with his cavalier spirit again, nearly chipping a delivery to the fielder at mid-on. And next ball, he stepped down the track and lofted the ball to deep midwicket for India’s second six of the day. Late in the day, he struck another one, coming down the pitch to off-spinner Will Somerville and lofting the ball to midwicket.
Jadeja gave him good company, negotiating the spinners well and moving the score along.
The going was tough for India early on after Ajinkya Rahane chose to bat to make the first use of the surface and to exploit the cracks on it in the fourth innings. Mayank Agarwal-vs-Jamieson was the first mini-battle in the first 45 minutes. For the first two overs, Agarwal did not know how he could negotiate the lovely outswingers, the ball going past the outside edge a few times. It seemed that by the eighth over, he was confident enough to play the square drive off Jamieson for a boundary, but was it a trap? The ball was full and in the zone. The next ball, Jamieson got back his length, and Agarwal nervously prodded forward again another delivery later; he was out this time.
Southee had drawn the edge of Mayank’s bat, too, but the low bounce on the pitch put paid to any hopes of a dismissal. The ball bounced and then rolled past the diving wicketkeeper – passing through the gap between his outstretched hands and his torso – to the boundary.
Shubman Gill (52, 93b) was more assured at the crease than his opening partner. His first boundary was off a short, wide delivery from Ajaz in the 11th over, a rare loose delivery in the first hour. He took a liking to Ajaz, cutting and lofting to collect three more fours and a six off him. The shot he played for six runs was especially sweet – he saw the flight on the ball, stepped down the track confidently and lofted the ball serenely straight down the ground.
He eventually reached his fourth half-century and looked for many more, but he was undone by an excellent delivery from Jamieson soon after lunch. Jamieson got the ball to come in to the batter after pitching; it was a full delivery and Shubman, committed to his forward prod, left a gap between his bat and the pad. The ball took the inside edge and snuck through that gap. Bowled.
Rahane, the next man in, chopped the ball on to his stumps to Jamieson, too, but after scoring a strokeful 35. Unlike Pujara, who was typically stolid, Rahane was happy to play a few drives, mainly off the spinners who, unlike the fast bowlers, weren’t particularly threatening. He looked good for a big score, but luck wasn’t with him; the variable bounce undid him as the ball that got him out stayed low and took the bottom-edge of his bat en route to the stumps.
Southee accounted for the only other wicket to fall, that of Pujara, who ate up 88 deliveries for his 26. He hung his bat out slightly to a good length delivery and edged behind. Seam-bowling expert Southee had perhaps got the ball to straighten just a bit after pitching.
New Zealand’s fielders tried hard to shine the ball to obtain reverse swing, but they weren’t successful, and the new ball hardly bothered the set batters in the final session as Shreyas and Jadeja piled on the runs and tilted the scales in favour of their team.