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Ajit Agarkar feels New Zealand captaincy has changed Brendon McCullum into a better player

Brendon McCullum went on to score his second hundred of the series — fourth against India © Getty Images
Brendon McCullum went on to score his second hundred of the series — fourth against India © Getty Images

By Ajit Agarkar

When play began on Sunday morning, New Zealand were 24 for the one wicket, still 222 runs away from making India bat again. By lunch, they were four down for 87. A few minutes into the second session, they were in deep trouble with Corey Anderson gone for just two. That’s when Bradley-John Watling joined skipper Brendon McCullum in the middle. Thanks to an inspired first spell (8-3-21-2) from Zaheer Khan, India were just five wickets away from a famous and — more importantly — jinx-breaking and series-levelling victory. But what panned out over the next four hours was defence and defiance of the highest quality. If nothing, the hosts took the second Test into the fourth day. And they also gave themselves a faint hope of saving the contest.

McCullum went on to score his second hundred of the series — fourth against India — while wicketkeeper Watling scored a half century full of character as New Zealand ended the day at 252for the loss of five wickets. Their undefeated sixth-wicket partnership of 158 consumed a whopping 61.4 overs. In other words, they scored at a little over 2.5 runs an over. McCullum enjoyed two lives — Virat Kohli, otherwise a splendid fielder, was way too casual at mid-on and Ishant Sharma spilled a return catch. McCullum was on nine and 36, respectively. He made full use of those opportunities.

Let’s get this straight: India are still way ahead in the Test and just a couple of wickets away from wrapping up the New Zealand innings. But I hope they don’t end up conceding too many runs. Anything more than a 150-run target and we could be in for a fascinating fourth-innings chase. India must look to avoid it.

The day belonged largely to McCullum. Having played against and with him (at Kolkata Knight Riders), I know how dangerous a player he is. But this is a transformed McCullum we are watching. Sample this: he took as many as 197 balls to get to his hundred. It was, by far, the slowest of his nine Test tons. Hard to fathom, right? But that’s what world-class players do. They play according to the situation. Clearly, the added responsibility of captaining the side seems to have had a positive effect on his approach to the game.

Watling’s half century was also an exhibition of patience. He finished the day with 52 off 208, a strike-rate of exactly 25! McCullum also completed 1,000 Test runs against India, thereby becoming the first New Zealander to do so. In fact, over 20 per cent of his 5,000-odd runs have come against India. Also, he is playing his 84th straight Test match and has kept wickets in a vast majority of those contests.

Credit must also go to Zaheer. I think he bowled very well in the morning. He was well-supported by Sharma and Mohammed Shami. Did MS Dhoni miss a trick or two by being too defensive at times? At one point in McCullum’s innings, there was no fielder at slip. Also, I feel Dhoni could have got a part-timer like Virat Kohli or even Rohit Sharma on for a few overs because, sometimes, batsmen tend to take liberties and end up making a mistake. Ravindra Jadeja was the only slow bowler India used on Sunday and he looked too predictable.

(Ajit Agarkar represented India in over 200 matches and took 349 wickets. The above column first appeared in DNA from where its reproduced with permission)

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