A counter-attack that failed to work

India paid a heavy price for directionless bowling and some sloppy catching in the first innings. “Our mistakes in the first innings cost us the game,” said the Indian captain, Mahendra Singh Dhoni. By S. Dinakar.

In several respects, this was an astonishing Test match. A team trailing by a massive 301 runs in the first innings comes back into the match from nowhere and then very nearly pulls it off.

The control and movement of the Indian bowling, which saw New Zealand skittled out for 105 in the second innings, was perhaps the team’s finest display as a pace group in the last four years. But then, periods of inspiration often do not win you Test matches. Consistency does.

If India lost the first Test by 40 runs on a dramatic fourth day at Auckland’s Eden Park, it paid a heavy price for directionless bowling and some sloppy catching in the first innings that saw New Zealand make a mammoth 503.

Then, its batting collapsed to 202 all out. Ordinary shot selection hurt the side.

There were times when it appeared the players were not backing themselves to survive on a drop-in surface with some pace, carry and movement. “Our mistakes in the first innings cost us the game,” said India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni.

Chasing 407 for victory, Shikhar Dhawan (115) and Virat Kohli (67) seemed to be in control during their third-wicket partnership. But Kohli’s ill-advised attempt to pull from wide outside off against Neil Wagner proved to be a major turning point in the contest.

“We were worried when the score was 220-odd for two. We showed fantastic character to come out of that position,” said skipper Brendon McCullum.

Then there was the second new ball. “We lost a lot of wickets due to the second new ball. There was this decision as well,” said Dhoni, referring to the leg-before verdict against Ajinkya Rahane off the first delivery with the new ball.

Boult brought the delivery back into the right-hander but replays showed a thick inside edge.

Despite the counter-attack by Dhoni and Ravindra Jadeja, India came up short. Its previous errors in the Test had come back to haunt the side.

Kane Williamson was only in his 30s when Vijay dropped him at first slip. The Kiwi went on to score 113. Worse, he was associated in a 221-run fourth wicket stand with McCullum. The partnership took the game away from India after the Kiwis, put in to bat, were in big trouble at 30 for three.

“The Indian pacemen were bowling well, the wicket was doing a bit and I thought 200 would be a competitive score,” said McCullum. Instead, New Zealand made 500-plus.

Apart from Ishant Sharma, who bowled with a measure of control, the Indian pace attack disappointed. There were short and wide deliveries that were easily put away by McCullum, who is so good with horizontal bat shots.

The New Zealand captain, typically aggressive, reached his century with a six and his double-hundred with a four.

“Since we won the Test, this will have to be my best innings in Tests,” said a smiling McCullum after the match.

Yet, there were periods in the game when he was under severe pressure.

McCullum came in for criticism for not enforcing the follow-on after a 300-plus first innings lead. Instead, the New Zealand batting caved in with Mohammed Shami bowling brilliantly, and Zaheer Khan and Ishant chipping in; the bowlers were backed by some excellent catching and fielding with Jadeja excelling in the field.

McCullum explained: “I always backed my bowlers to get 20 wickets to win the game for us. But I wanted to give them some rest. I also did not want to face a scenario on the last day where we chased 150-odd with Jadeja coming into play.”

Dhawan, grassed in the covers by McCullum on seven, batted with resolve and sound shot-selection to revive his Test career.

For New Zealand, Wagner bowled with heart and commitment on the decisive day. He kept running in hard all day, operated at a brisk pace and tested the Indian batsmen with well-directed short-pitched deliveries.

“He (Wagner) typifies whatever we want to be as a team. He is hostile, gives his everything,” said McCullum.

Of course, Tim Southee got New Zealand the crucial wicket on the fourth day morning with a delivery that lifted and left to find key batsman Cheteshwar Pujara’s edge.

Ishant scalped nine in the match, went past the 150-wicket mark, but it was the Kiwis who celebrated in the end.

“Considering India’s ranking (No. 2) in Test cricket, this was a very important victory for us,” said the Man of the Match, McCullum.

THE SCORES

First Test: New Zealand v India, Eden Park, Auckland (February 6-9, 2014).

Result: New Zealand won by 40 runs.

New Zealand — 1st innings: P. Fulton lbw b Zaheer 13, H. Rutherford c Rahane b I. Sharma 6, K. Williamson c Dhoni b Zaheer 113, R. Taylor c Jadeja b I. Sharma 3, B. McCullum c Jadeja b I. Sharma 224, C. Anderson lbw b I. Sharma 77, B. J. Watling c Dhawan b I. Sharma 1, T. Southee b Shami 28, I. Sodhi c R. Sharma b I. Sharma 23, N. Wagner c Kohli b Jadeja 0, T. Boult (not out) 1, Extras (b-1, lb-5, w-5, nb-3) 14. Total: 503.

Fall of wickets: 1-19, 2-23, 3-30, 4-251, 5-384, 6-398, 7-434, 8-490, 9-495.

India bowling: Shami 28-6-95-1, Zaheer 30-2-132-2, I. Sharma 33.4-4-134-6, Jadeja 26-1-120-1, Kohli 1-0-4-0, R. Sharma 3-0-12-0.

India — 1st innings: S. Dhawan c Williamson b Boult 0, M. Vijay b Wagner 26, C. Pujara c Watling b Boult 1, V. Kohli c Fulton b Southee 4, R. Sharma b Boult 72, A. Rahane c Taylor b Southee 26, M. S. Dhoni c Watling b Wagner 10, R. Jadeja (not out) 30, Zaheer Khan c Watling b Wagner 14, I. Sharma c Boult b Southee 0, M. Shami c Fulton b Wagner 2, Extras (b-5, lb-6, w-3, nb-3) 17. Total: 202.

Fall of wickets: 1-1, 2-3, 3-10, 4-51, 5-138, 6-138, 7-167, 8-188, 9-189.

New Zealand bowling: Boult 17-2-38-3, Southee 19-6-38-3, Anderson 5-0-29-0, Wagner 11-0-64-4, Sodhi 6-0-13-0, Williamson 2-0-9-0.

New Zealand — 2nd innings: P. Fulton c Jadeja b Shami 5, H. Rutherford lbw b Shami 0, Williamson c Jadeja b Zaheer 3, R. Taylor c Rahane b Zaheer 41, B. McCullum (run out) 1, C. Anderson b Shami 2, B. J. Watling b I. Sharma 11, T. Southee c Pujara b Jadeja 14, I. Sodhi c R. Sharma b I. Sharma 0, N. Wagner c Jadeja b I. Sharma 14, T. Boult (not out) 7, Extras (b-4, w-1, nb-2) 7. Total: 105.

Fall of wickets: 1-1, 2-9, 3-11, 4-15, 5-25, 6-63, 7-78, 8-78, 9-80.

India bowling: Shami 12-1-37-3, Zaheer 9-2-23-2, I. Sharma 10.2-3-28-3, Jadeja 9-4-10-1, R. Sharma 1-0-3-0.

India — 2nd innings: M. Vijay c Watling b Southee 13, S. Dhawan c Watling b Wagner 115, C. Pujara c Watling b Southee 23, V. Kohli c Watling b Wagner 67, R. Sharma c Watling b Southee 19, A. Rahane lbw b Boult 18, M. S. Dhoni b Wagner 39, R. Jadeja c Sodhi b Boult 26, Zaheer Khan c Taylor b Wagner 17, I. Sharma c Watling b Boult 4, M. Shami (not out) 0, Extras (b-12, lb-7, w-2, nb-4) 25. Total: 366.

Fall of wickets: 1-36, 2-96, 3-222, 4-248, 5-268, 6-270, 7-324, 8-349, 9-362.