Batting reveals a worrying weak link

Pragyan Ojha, India’s bowling hero in the first innings, is greeted by team-mates after he had dismissed Ross Taylor. TheKiwi skipper had made a superb century.-K. BHAGYA PRAKASH

India, even in victory, will realise that some critical decisions have to be taken soon, writes Shreedutta Chidananda.

India wrapped up a second Test match victory inside four days but it was scarcely the joyride most supporters would have foreseen. It took a determined partnership between M. S. Dhoni and Virat Kohli — the last recognised batting pair — to see India home in the fourth innings; a target 70 runs greater and who knows how things would have panned out.

Dhoni may not have been deeply enamoured with the pitch at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium, but it made for splendid Test cricket. The ball did not turn square from the first over (Not for the want of trying, though. Pragyan Ojha became the first Indian spinner to send down the first ball of a Test match.), and New Zealand batted without fear in the first innings. Martin Guptill did some justice to his unquestionable ability, stroking the ball delightfully well during his 53 (79b, 8x4). The Kiwi skipper, Ross Taylor, who had scored only one hundred against a major nation in his previous 42 innings (straddling a period of over three years), went “all out” as he had promised the day before. He played his shots — cuts, pulls and slog sweeps — unshackled, compiling an entertaining 113 (127b, 16x4, 2x6). His landmarks were graciously cheered by a Bangalore crowd that had taken him to its heart during his time with RCB. Not all IPL-engendered ties, it seems, are flaky.

Kruger van Wyk chipped in with a valuable 71 as the Kiwis managed 365 in the first innings — more than their combined score from both chapters in the previous Test in Hyderabad.

On the opening two days, the pitch offered — like any decent Test match surface ought to — encouragement to seam bowling. India did not make the most of it; Ojha took five wickets (and full credit to him) but Guptill, Taylor, and James Franklin were all guilty of throwing it away. New Zealand’s seamers were a markedly better lot. Trent Boult swung the ball well, albeit without reward, Doug Bracewell demonstrated aggression, while Tim Southee, with his tight lines, was the star of the innings. He finished with seven for 64, the best figures returned by an overseas player at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium, and the best by a Kiwi on Indian soil.

India’s batting revealed a worrying weak link: once the openers fail to build a substantial partnership and Sachin Tendulkar falls cheaply, only Virat Kohli and Dhoni stand between the opponent and a six-lane highway through the tail. That scenario unfolded in both innings, albeit with minor exceptions. In the first essay, there was Suresh Raina’s counter-attacking 55 (90b, 9x4, 1x6) to complement Kohli’s superb hundred (103, 193b, 14x4, 1x6). In the second, Gambhir and Sehwag managed an alliance of 77 (it has been 34 innings, going back to Centurion 2010, since India last had a century partnership for the opening wicket).

Otherwise, both times, India had only Kohli and Dhoni to thank. The captain made 62 (94b, 8x4, 2x6) in the first innings as the two added 122 runs for the sixth wicket, Southee consuming both on the third morning with deliveries that moved back in.

With an insignificant lead of 12 runs, New Zealand’s second innings was always going to be decisive, the balance of the contest resting firmly on the third day’s outcome. And it was here that R. Ashwin firmly swung it India’s way. The off-spinner snapped four threatening partnerships, taking five for 69 to move to 49 Test wickets. He was well supported by Umesh Yadav, who, in the first innings, to put it charitably, had been wayward.

So, India was left with 261 to get on the fourth day. Things were going swimmingly when Sehwag and Gambhir were clouting New Zealand around. But from 77 for no loss in 11 overs, India crumbled to 166 for five. Gambhir nicked off to slip yet again, Tendulkar was bowled through the gate for the third innings in a row, and with New Zealand’s off-spinner Jeetan Patel getting them to turn (and the odd one to sink low) there was trouble at the gates. Kohli (51, 82b, 9x4) and Dhoni (48, 60b, 3x4, 2x6), though, played gatekeepers again. Their unbroken stand of 96 helped the home side over the line, to a match and series win.

New Zealand will be encouraged despite defeat. On the evidence of its seamers’ showing in Bangalore, its Test future is not all that gloomy. India, even in victory, will realise that some critical decisions have to be taken soon.

The scores

New Zealand — 1st innings: M. Guptill c Gambhir b Ojha 53; B. McCullum lbw Zaheer 0; K. Williamson lbw b Ojha 17; R. Taylor lbw b Ojha 113; D. Flynn lbw b Ashwin 33; J. Franklin c Raina b Ojha 8; K. van Wyk c Raina b Zaheer 71; D. Bracewell (run out) 43; T. Southee lbw b Ojha 14; J. Patel c Gambhir b Yadav 0; T. Boult (not out) 2; Extras (b-2, lb-9): 11. Total: 365.

Fall of wickets: 1-0, 2-63, 3-89, 4-196, 5-215, 6-246, 7-345, 8-353, 9-353.

India bowling: Ojha 28.1-10-99-5, Zaheer 22-2-83-2, Yadav 16-1-90-1, Ashwin 24-5-82-1.

India — 1st innings: G. Gambhir b Southee 2; V. Sehwag c Flynn b Bracewell 43; C. Pujara c Boult b Southee 9; S. Tendulkar b Bracewell 17; V. Kohli lbw b Southee 103; S. Raina c van Wyk b Southee 55; M. Dhoni lbw b Southee 62; R. Ashwin (not out) 32; Zaheer Khan c van Wyk b Southee 7; P. Ojha c van Wyk b Southee 0; Umesh Yadav b Boult 4; Extras (b-11, lb-2, nb-5, w-1): 19. Total: 353.

Fall of wickets: 1-5, 2-27, 3-67, 4-80, 5-179, 6-301, 7-312, 8-320, 9-320.

New Zealand bowling: Boult 23.5-2-90-1, Southee 24-6-64-7, Bracewell 20-4-91-2, Franklin 10-4-17-0, Patel 19-5-78-0.

New Zealand — 2nd innings: B. McCullum c Dhoni b Yadav 23; M. Guptill b Yadav 7; K. Williamson c Sehwag b Ashwin 13; R. Taylor lbw b Ojha 35; D. Flynn c Sehwag b Ashwin 31; J. Franklin st. Dhoni b Ashwin 41; K. van Wyk lbw b Ashwin 31; D. Bracewell lbw b Ojha 22; T. Southee b Ashwin 2; J. Patel c Dhoni b Zaheer 22; T. Boult (not out) 4; Extras (b-4, lb-12, w-1): 17. Total: 248.

Fall of wickets: 1-30, 2-31, 3-69, 4-111, 5-140, 6-195, 7-216, 8-222, 9-222.

India bowling: Zaheer 14.2-2-46-1, Yadav 15-0-68-2, Ojha 21-6-49-2, Ashwin 22-1-69-5, Raina 1-1-0-0.

India — 2nd innings: G. Gambhir c Taylor b Boult 34; V. Sehwag b Patel 38; C. Pujara c Flynn b Patel 48; S. Tendulkar b Southee 27; V. Kohli (not out) 51; S. Raina b Patel 0; M. Dhoni (not out) 48; Extras (b-4, lb-6, nb-1, w-5): 16. Total (for five wkts.): 262.

Fall of wickets: 1-77, 2-83, 3-152, 4-158, 5-166.

New Zealand bowling: Boult 16-4-64-1, Southee 18-3-68-1, Bracewell 14-3-52-0, Patel 15.2-3-68-3.

Man of the Match: Virat Kohli. Man of the series: R. Ashwin.