From a position of heading towards an embarrassing defeat to relative stability, India have to thank their bowlers for it. India’s fortunes in New Zealand seemed to be sliding downwards during the middle of the third day of the first Test in Auckland. But by the end of the day, there was a sense of calmness and hope that India could win the match. Shrikant Shankar analyses India’s bowling during New Zealand’s second innings and why they performed so well.
India won the toss and elected to bowl in the first Test against New Zealand in Auckland. The conditions were right for the new-ball bowlers to take advantage early on Day One. They took early wickets, but some poor bowling combined with some very good batting from Kane Williamson, Brendon McCullum and Corey Anderson propelled New Zealand to 503 in their first innings. India’s innings also started with a flurry of wickets going down, before an 87-run stand between Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane guided them.
But a collapse ensued and India were bowled out for 202 early on Day Three. At that time, they trailed New Zealand by 301 runs. Everything pointed to a comfortable New Zealand victory. Captain McCullum decided to bat again rather than making India follow-on. The decision was debated vehemently by commentators as many felt New Zealand should have made India follow-on. In hindsight, one could say it may not have been the right decision, but credit has to go to the Indian bowlers for that.
They came out firing on all cylinders. Mohammed Shami was unlucky to get only one wicket in the first innings as he bowled very well. Luck changed for him in the second innings and he struck in the first over by trapping Hamish Rutherford leg-before for a first-ball duck. The ball held its line from a good length and that was enough to hit the pads. The next to go was Peter Fulton. Shami bowled a full delivery and Fulton drove on the up, and Ravindra Jadeja took the catch at short extra-cover.
Shami was bowling it quite full and bowled it at pace with subtle swing either way — recipe for taking wickets in any condition. The New Zealand batsmen, who looked so imposing in the first innings, were tentative and eventually lost their wickets. Zaheer Khan dismissed Williamson with a back of a length delivery, but the credit would go to Jadeja for taking a stunning one-handed catch at short mid-wicket. Then just before lunch, McCullum was done in by another piece of stunning fielding by Jadeja as he was run-out.
After lunch, the Indian seamers did not let up the pressure and Shami led the way by bowling Anderson with an in-coming full delivery. Ross Taylor tried to stay at the wicket for as long as possible, but Zaheer got his number with a length delivery wide outside off-stump. Taylor played far away from his body and cut at it, only to edge it to Rahane at gully, who took a sharp catch. The reason Taylor went after it was probably due to the fact that it was a rare loose delivery amongst a host of full and straight ones. But when one is not settled in properly, things do not work so smoothly.
Tim Southee was dismissed by Jadeja and after that it was the Ishant Sharma show. He took six wickets in the first innings, but bowled well only in patches. If Shami and Zaheer bowled fuller length deliveries, Ishant bowled at a good length and made the ball bounce a bit more using his height to good effect. The length he bowled at was easier to hit for the batsmen, but it was also good enough to take wickets. BJ Watling’s excruciatingly slow innings came to an end with a rather back of a length delivery that kept a bit low from Ishant.
The ball took the edge and shattered the stumps. Ish Sodhi edged a good length delivery that held its line to Rohit at second slip. Neil Wagner tried to up the ante with average success and Ishant started bowling bouncers at him to intimidate him. He eventually got Wagner caught at deep backward square-leg by Jadeja as he attempted a pull. New Zealand were bundled out for 105 and India were set a target of 407. That was far better than what they would have hoped for when they were bowled out cheaply.
India lost the wicket of Murali Vijay early on, but an unbroken 51-run stand between Shikhar Dhawan (49) and Cheteshwar Pujara (22) has taken the score to 87 for one at stumps on Day Three. India need 320 runs to win and now they seem to have a better standing in the match. As for the Indian bowlers, Shami seems to adapt quickly to situations and does not seem to get bogged down by a lack of luck; and that is a good sign for India.
Zaheer may not be the bowler he once was, but his experience and wisdom will benefit in some way or the other. Ishant found some rhythm and bowled at a good length spot making the ball jump higher. That is exactly what shot him to fame all those years ago when he made Ricky Ponting, at the peak of his prowess, look like an amateur. Coming to the Test, New Zealand are still favourites to win, but India have a chance. And that chance has been provided by their bowlers. Now it’s up to the batsmen!
(Shrikant Shankar is a writer/reporter at CricketCountry.com. Previously he has done audio commentary for various matches involving India, Indian Premier League and Champions League Twenty20 for ESPNSTAR.com. You can follow him on Twitter @Shrikant_23)
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