Trent Boult celebrates picking the wicket at the end of Day of 1st Test against India © AFP
Trent Boult celebrates after grabbing a wicket at the end of Day 1 of 1st Test against India © AFP

Trent Boult can move the new ball. That bit, everyone is aware of. When the conditions suit him he can be devastating, scything through top-orders. Tim Southee, his partner-in-crime, was not present for New Zealand in their first Test of the ongoing series against India at Kanpur. Boult bowled a full-toss and an over-pitched delivery in his first over. KL Rahul dismissed him with disdain for two boundaries. Boult unleashed one of his trademark incoming deliveries in his second over, beating Rahul. He nearly undid Rahul with a lifter in his fourth over. Rahul retaliated with boundaries off the next two balls.

Kane Williamson took Boult off after that over. His figures read nought for 17 in 4 overs. He had bowled two beautiful deliveries, but Rahul had won the battle. Rahul was gone by the time Boult came back after lunch. By then the ball had gone old, and Murali Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara were looking invincible. The innocuous spin trio of Mitchell Santner, Mark Craig, and Ish Sodhi was having little effect on the pair, who looked more and more solid as time passed.

Boult seemed ineffective. That bite was simply not there. He might have got Vijay when he slashed and edged, but that would hardly have a wicket Boult would have earned. There was a delectable late cut for four.

BJ Watling came up. Boult, not in the best of moods, bowled a bouncer. Four byes. Boult was not happy. Neither was Williamson.

Boult was back again thirty overs later. The ball was older. It hardly reversed. Ravichandran Ashwin casually steered him past third-man. A burst of three overs was what Boult got.

The second new ball, he must have thought; that, indeed, was what Boult was in the side for: pitch up the new ball, get it moving, find the edge, beatt the bat, hit the pads, hit timber, make batsmen jump around, make things happen.

Trent Boult was no ordinary new-ball bowler. He had proved himself in favourable conditions, but in conditions that offered little to swing bowlers, he had to show he was up with the best in business.

New Zealand were in with three spinners. There was no Southee. He was the spearhead. His job was to get wickets for his captain, for New Zealand.

This was his moment. The second new ball was his zone. He had run around chasing leather across Green Park through the day. His 12 fruitless overs had gone for 37. It was time to give it back to the Indians, to create a match out of nowhere.

The first over with the new ball went to Santner. Boult came on from the other end. The first five balls looked harmless. The sixth hurried on to Ashwin before he brought the bat down at the last moment.

Santner took out Rohit Sharma at the other end, but Ashwin was looking the more confident of the two. Boult pitched one outside off. Ashwin went for it. The inside-edge hit his pad.

Three balls and a single later, Boult found himself bowling to the in-form Wriddhiman Saha, a man gifted with an excellent technique for someone who does not bat in the top six.

The first ball to Saha was in the zone. Saha, still new to the crease, was sucked into it and was beaten.

Did the next ball pitch on off? It was perhaps a shade inside. Let us call it off-and-middle. The length was immaculate. The ball swung in viciously, taking Saha by surprise, making its way through the gate.

A cartwheeling stump would have been too crude a conclusion to something of that finesse. The ball simply dislodged the leg bail.

The next ball took the edge of Ravindra Jadeja and flew past point. The over had yielded a single wicket, but Boult had managed to rattle India in less than five minutes.

The fielders stood back for Ashwin in the next over. A bouncer was coming up. There was no doubt about that.

It came. It was too quick for Ashwin. The ball brushed his glove and ran to the fine-leg fence.

Of course Boult would pitch the next one up. Sizing up the batsman up with a short ball and following it with a pitched-up one was one of the oldest tricks in the ball.

He did pitch it up. The bouncer had been quicker than Ashwin had expected. This, too, was a surprise, for Boult had bowled it with cross-seam. The ball came tantalisingly close to Ashwin. He was forced to play — and edge to gully.

The 88th over. It would be Boult. He would get two more in the day. Batting has never been the strongest suit of Mohammed Shami, but he still had to be put out of the way.

Boult decided to give Shami the Saha treatment: pitch on off, swing in, whoosh in through the gate, and almost magically — kiss the off bail.

Boult has bowled better spells in his career, perhaps never more when the radar was on him during ICC World Cup 2015. But this burst of 1.3-0-5-3 will be up there with one of its best, for it came when the pitch offered him nothing, when the batsmen were taking the Test away, when his captain opted for spinners, when his partner-in-crime was ruled out.

It was supposed to be India’s day, for it is their 500th Test, an occasion that saw a galaxy of former captains rarely seen together. India were on top for most of the day. India should have finished the day on top, at 300 for 5 or thereabouts. Instead, they are 291 for 9 as New Zealand gate-crashed their party.

After remaining near-invisible throughout the day Boult came back to light up Green Park to ruin India’s momentous occasion.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Chief Editor at CricketCountry and CricLife. He blogs here and can be followed on Twitter here.)