By Nishad Pai Vaidya
The intriguing tussle at Bangalore meandered into the second day as India and New Zealand fought tooth and nail for control. If the first day tilted in favour of New Zealand, it was even-stevens on Day Two with both sides having their moments under the sun. India wrapped up New Zealand fairly quickly, but the tourists hit back by running through the Indian top order. It required some belligerence from Suresh Raina and patience from Virat Kohli to steer the Indian ship through troubled waters and take them to a zone of safety. The match is exciting poised at this stage – a welcome change after a one-sided contest at Hyderabad.
New Zealand’s opening bowlers used the conditions very well early on as there were overcast skies and the ball was moving around a touch. Mahendra Singh Dhoni has warned his batsmen about the Kiwi pace bowlers, and one could see why. Tim Southee was the wrecker-in-chief as he dismissed India’s top three. With the ball moving in the air, he asked a number of questions. Trent Boult wasn’t far behind and could have had Gautam Gambhir had Brendon McCullum latched on to an opportunity at third slip. However, Southee tricked the southpaw with some movement and knocked out his off stump when he left the delivery alone.
The century maker from Hyderabad couldn’t carry on from that good knock and succumbed to his temptation to hook the short ball. Even at Hyderabad, one noticed that Pujara never shied away from essaying that stroke, but would often hit it in the air. As one of the commentators mentioned, he shouldn’t do away with the shot completely, but must learn better control. Since it a stroke that can fetch him a lot of runs, more control would tighten it and deny the bowlers a chance. It is early days for him in international cricket and he will learn as time passes and he establishes himself at number three.
Sachin Tendulkar’s performance was a bit of a hit and a miss. He started off very tentatively trying to survive as Virender Sehwag flayed the bowling attack in trademark fashion. Post lunch, it looked like Tendulkar was getting into his stride as he looked more positive in his strokeplay. When Tendulkar punches a ball past the bowler with minimal effort, one generally gets the feeling that he is confident and in the zone. It wasn’t to be as Doug Bracewell got through his defences with an incoming delivery off the very next ball.
With this failure, the critics would be out in numbers dismissing Tendulkar by claiming that age has caught up, etc. It would be a mistake to write him off as he is the kind of a player who can produce a great innings the next time he walks out. He is at a critical stage in his career – in twilight where some of his esteemed colleagues aren’t around. In a young side trying to create its identity, Tendulkar is a symbol of stability and a good performance by him can do wonders to the confidence of the team. Two failures are no parameters to judge him just yet.
The Raina-Kohli partnership was fantastic to watch as they held on to prevent New Zealand from making further inroads. Raina clearly plucked a leaf out of Ross Taylor’s book and immediately counter-attacked. He fearlessly expressed himself and found the boundaries with ease. Some of the shots he played were astonishing – like the six over cover off Jeetan Patel was probably from his T20 repertoire. Through that attacking display, there were a few areas of concern. Raina still continues to poke at deliveries outside off stump. On the surface at Bangalore, he was able to get away with it, but that may not be the case on faster ones abroad. Also, there were times when he was anticipating the short ones too early – knowing that the bowlers may pepper him in that area.
If Pujara’s hundred won the hearts at Hyderabad, Kohli’s laudable vigil is very encouraging. He had a good hit in the first Test with a fifty, but his dismissal was disappointing as he flashed at a delivery outside off. One could see that he took note of that error as he was disciplined in his approach to the deliveries outside off. With the ball moving away, he ready to leave them alone. There were occasions when he played and missed. Nevertheless, the overall display was good and a three figure mark would be a deserving reward.
With Raina blazing away, Kohli did a sensible thing by playing a different role. He could have easily got carried away by what was going on at the other end and resisted the temptation to play aggressive shots. The application he exhibited shows that he is maturing well and understanding his role in Test cricket. Even after Raina was dismissed, Kohli continued to show remarkable grit. Mahendra Singh Dhoni seized the initiative and attacked the Kiwi bowling to forge a good partnership with the Delhi batsman.
The game is very much in the balance as India are 82 runs behind in the first innings with the last two genuine batsmen at the crease. The longevity of the Dhoni-Kohli partnership would be crucial to the fate of the game as it would determine whether or not India get past New Zealand’s challenge. The tourists would want to take the advantage early in the morning when the new ball would be available. This is certainly the game Test cricket in India needed.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and an analyst for the site’s YouTube Channel. He shot to fame by spotting a wrong replay during IPL4 which resulted in Sachin Tendulkar's dismissal. His insights on the game have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. He can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nishad_44 )