Bhuvneshwar Kumar celebrates his five-for with captain Virat Kohli and other teammates    AFP
Bhuvneshwar Kumar celebrates his five-for with captain Virat Kohli and other teammates AFP

A pace bowler has claimed a five-for in a Test in India! Time to rejoice, isn’t it? The India-South Africa series in 2015 was called the ‘Freedom Trophy’ but in reality the batsmen were caught in the spin web and could not free themselves. The pitches dished out were in favour of spin, so it sounds weird to fathom an Indian pacer claiming a five-for in Indian conditions. Let the excitement fade away as we come in terms with reality. Yes, Bhuvneshwar Kumar became the first Indian pacer in almost 3 years to pick a five-for in India. Co-incidentally, his new ball partner Mohammed Shami was the last man to do it and the feat came at this very ground, Eden Gardens in Kolkata, against West Indies in 2013.

Having won their 500th Test at Kanpur, India are now eyeing another win against New Zealand in their 250th Test at home and the venue could not have been more fitting than Eden Gardens, which is hosting its 40th Test the most in India. New Zealand won two sessions on Day One and were on top but India came back strong on Day 2, staging a complete domination. In reply to India’s 316, New Zealand are reeling at 128 for 7.

Despite less than 53 overs possible, the second day’s play was highly eventful and India completely outplayed the visitors. First, it was Wriddhiman Saha, who denied New Zealand the early advantage by crafting a defiant 54 not out. The new ball and the barrage of hostile short balls from Trent Boult and co. did not bog him down. He mixed caution with aggression to help India win the morning battle against the Kiwi pacers.

From then on it was Bhuvi’s show. It was surprising that despite bowling India to a win at St Lucia, he was not picked in the Kanpur Test. He missed out on playing India’s 500th Test at his home ground but has made up for it with a stellar show at Eden Gardens. The lively nature of the pitch and the greenish tinge prompted the management to go for Bhuvi and he has repaid the faith.

However, the job is half done. The conditions on Day Three morning should favour the Indian pacers. Shami, the local boy, knows the conditions in and out, while Bhuvi has the form with him. The moisture in the wicket and the early morning overcast conditions will be conducive to swing bowling and with the variable bounce on the wicket, India should not succumb to their perennial weakness of letting the tail-enders prevail.

New Zealand cannot complain much. These were not alien conditions for them. They were handicapped without their best batsman Kane Williamson and there will the odd debate that the officials did not offer them ‘light’ when the visibility was questionable. Stand-in skipper Ross Taylor, who looked good for his 36, was clearly upset with the light, after he poked a near-perfect delivery from Bhuvi to the first slip.

Bhuvi bowled in the right areas, the corridor of uncertainty and his ability to swing did the rest. The pitch helped too. His fifth wicket was of Matt Henry. He skilfully got the delivery to nip in but the ball stayed low on its way to stumps.

“In India you rarely get this kind of wicket, so I wanted to make full use of it,” said Bhuvneshwar Kumar in a post-day’s play interview. He added, “It was one of my dreams to take five wickets in India. When I saw that the wicket would help me, I told myself I want to take five wickets.”

He has fulfilled the dream and now it is time for him to aim for more. The wicket is conducive and this is his opportunity. In fact, this is an opportunity for India to announce that they can win Tests in the subcontinent without their spinners taking the centre stage.

Probably Shikhar Dhawan’s last chance

Shikhar Dhawan has another chance to prove his mettle. His inconsistency at the top has hurt India and if he fails to make this opportunity count, then in all probability, he will be sent to Ranji Trophy. It is a tough journey back to the top and his Delhi senior and competitor for spot Gautam Gambhir is a live example.

Captain Virat Kohli too has had a dry run with the willow. Post his maiden double ton in West Indies, he has now gone seven innings without a fifty. His average in those outings is less than 15. If things fall India’s way, the batsmen will bat without any pressure.

Dhawan and Kohli should make it count. If the clouds hover around tomorrow then one can expect the thunder Boult. The Kiwi left-arm pacer is amongst the best exponent in these conditions and believe it, they will come hard at Indians and will look to exploit Dhawan and Kohli’s shaky confidence. The key will also be to bat on front foot as the uneven bounce of the surface cannot be trusted

India clearly have an upper hand and will look to end Day Three with a sizeable lead and batting New Zealand out of the contest. Do not be surprised if you see New Zealand seamers putting their hands up and giving the hosts a tough fight. A win is on the cards for India but the Kiwis will not make it easy.

Brief Scores:

New Zealand 128 for 7 (Ross Taylor 36, Luke Ronchi 35; Bhuvneshwar Kumar 5 for 33) trail India 316 (Cheteshwar Pujara 87, Ajinkya Rahane 77, Wriddhiman Saha 54*; Matt Henry 3 for 46, Trent Boult 2 for 46) by 188 runs.

Full Scorecard

(Suvajit Mustafi consumes cricket for lunch, fiction for dinner and munches numerous other snacks throughout the day. Yes, a jack of several trades, all Suvajit dreamt of was being India s World Cup winning skipper but ended up being a sports writer, author, screenwriter, director, copywriter, graphic designer, sports marketer, strategist, entrepreneur, philosopher and traveller. Donning so many hats, it s cricket which gives him the ultimate high and where he finds solace. He can be followed at @RibsGully and rivu7)