India hammered New Zealand in the first Test © AFP
India hammered New Zealand in the first Test © AFP

India’s comprehensive victory by 197 runs in the opening Test of their three-match series, at Kanpur, was their third biggest win in terms of runs against New Zealand. Many years down the line, the context of this win may diminish, since the margin of victory of the Indian cricket team will not tell the real story. That India had to fight their way back in the Test is something which makes their victory in the 500th Test even more memorable — at least they did not face any allegation of railroading New Zealand on a flat and turning wicket on which they thrived against former world No. 1 South Africa.

The victory in India’s 500th Test — overall their 130th win in the conventional format of the sport — will taste bitter-sweet for Virat Kohli and company, who were made to work real hard to earn this win. New Zealand did look fallible on paper, but on the field, they punched above their weight. The fact that the Kane Williamson-led team took the first Test into the second session of the final day is enough in itself to prove that the contest was far more gripping than what was expected. Both the teams had their ups and downs, and both India and New Zealand had their heroes and zeros. If Mitchell Santner doubled up for a few who looked like passengers in the Kiwis’ cricket team, India had the deadly duo of Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja to do the job for them.

But was it only about Man-of-the-Match Jadeja, or Ashwin, who bagged his fifth 10-wicket haul in the game and became a part of an exclusive group of bowlers? Not exactly. If India’s first innings is revisited, once again the scorecard will not tell the story of far too many soft dismissals. But what it will show is the 112-run stand for the second wicket between Murali Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara, which set the platform for India to get to a respectable first total. FULL CRICKET SCORECARD: India vs New Zealand, 1st Test at Kanpur

Irrespective of how hard Jadeja tried to get late runs for India, it would not have been possible to take India past 300 had there been no strong stand for the second wicket since the rest of India’s batting failed. At the same time, Jadeja’s 42 not out in the first innings batting with No. 11 — his first score of great significance since that splendid half-century at Lord’s in 2014 against England — took India to a total which gave them the fire which they lacked.

Jadeja and Ashwin looked ineffective on the second day, and their reputation as a bowling pair took a hit when New Zealand reached 152 for 1 by stumps. India needed inspiration as much as they wanted the Green Park Stadium’s wicket to start assisting spinners. On the third day, the team roared to the top on the back of two bowlers who literally hunted in a pack — Jadeja and Ashwin. Jadeja accounted for Ross Taylor and Luke Ronchi besides three tailenders. On the other hand, Ashwin snared the prized scalps of Williamson, Tom Latham, Mitchell Santner and BJ Watling.

The 56-run lead that India took in the first innings looked as good as that of 100 runs, as the Kiwis could not produce the same impact which they did in the first innings with the ball. There were no smart ploys — like the one that resulted in Kohli’s dismissal in the first essay — and they kept getting pummelled for runs throughout India’s second dig. First it was the pair of Vijay and Pujara, and when New Zealand started appearing sapped, Rohit Sharma and Jadeja did what they could not in the first innings.

Before we get on to Rohit and Jadeja and the damage that did as a pair, it must be stated that Vijay and Pujara both deserved centuries in both the innings. Ironically, they scored in 60s in the first innings, and in the second, they fell in their 70s. What was even more amusing was to see both these batsmen being dismissed close to each other. The only difference was Pujara outscored his partner by 2 runs in the second innings.

To say New Zealand were waiting for India’s mercy of declaring their second innings is no exaggeration. The Kiwis looked sapped, spiritless and were being broken down mentally. At a certain stage, it looked like a target of 350 would be enough especially since New Zealand did not even score 300 in their first innings. However, it was not supposed to be: India kept on batting, Rohit stroked his way to an extremely important innings of 68 not out, and on the other hand, Jadeja gave himself the second opportunity in Test cricket to fence the cricket bat like a sword.

New Zealand turned so feeble in just one session — perhaps crushed by the mental pressure created by the runs that India had piled up — that there was no great attempt to stop the pair of Rohit and Jadeja. The Indian batsmen kept toying with the Kiwis’ bowling attack, and mind you, Jadeja was sent up in the order ahead of the likes of Ashwin and Wriddhiman Saha, who have been in terrific form. Run-making had become the easiest task on the field when Rohit and Jadeja were batting, and before the Kiwis could realise, the pair had added an unbeaten sixth-wicket stand of 100 runs. Rohit and Jadeja batted for 18.3 overs together, and scored at a rate of 5.40. New Zealand were battered.

Many a battles are won in the mind, but in case of New Zealand, the contest was as good as lost. Maybe that is why Martin Guptill went for a sweep shot against Ashwin, unsure with which part of the bat he will make connection; or perhaps that is why on a good wicket — where a rookie like Santner applied himself to score 71 — Ross Taylor forgot to drag his bat in. The one that turned sharply into Williamson — for the second time in the game off Ashwin — all but sealed New Zealand’s fate. India’s patience, skills, perseverance and talent was all at display in Kanpur.

(Devarchit Varma is senior writer with CricketCountry. He can be followed on Twitter @Devarchit)