After the first day of the second Test, I’m afraid India are looking down the barrel of a gun. This match is crucial to save face (having lost the first Test badly) and also get 60 important points for the World Test Championship. That now seems difficult.
So far, New Zealand have handed out an object lesson to Virat Kohli’s team in how to bat and bowl on grassy tracks. India’s experienced batsmen with enviable records and reputations have floundered, and the widely toasted pace attack hasn’t been able to make impact either.
True, these are ‘home’ conditions for the Kiwis, where they have always done well. Many visiting teams have struggled. Kohli’s bad luck with the toss has also been a contributing factor. But such handicaps and misfortunes are factored in before the contest begins.
It’s how things transpired in the middle reveals a team’s mettle and mindset. What the first day’s play showed virtually no progress made from the 10-wicket debacle in Wellington. In a series on which so much is at stake - individually and collectively - this is highly disappointing.
The technique and skill of batsmen against the moving ball — through swing and seam — was always going to be on test. In this, the top order had added onus, particularly given India’s longish tail. This responsibility has so far not been fulfilled.
Poor scores from Kohli, the side’s premier batsman, have stood out. It is highly unusual for him to go through almost an entire tour with only one-half century across formats. But nobody has looked like taking control, being on top of the situation either.
Not just skills, but temperament also matters as much especially when the conditions pose so many hardships. In this too, India’s batsmen have been found wanting. This was even more painfully evident on Saturday when three from the top order got half centuries, yet India fizzled out for 242.
The need to show aggressive intent to win a match is undisputed. But this must emerge from quick and astute understanding of the circumstances, not just bravado. Prithvi Shaw, Cheteshwar Pujara and Hanuma Vihari all fell to strokes that will agonise them for a long while.
Shaw looked in scintillating touch, but one loose shot, playing far away from his body, made it his innings a cameo rather than a potential match-winning effort. Vihari fell on the stroke of tea, succumbing to misplaced agro despite having got boundaries in the same over.
The biggest blow came after the break when Pujara played a cringe-worthy pull. India’s state hadn’t looked too bad a few overs earlier, now it had become dire. Had two of these three half-centurions not been so impetuous, India could have got to the 350, a strong score on this pitch.
None of this is to deny New Zealand’s bowlers their due for an excellent performance, particularly from youngster Kyle Jamieson who has ‘star’ written all over him already. He’s not very quick, and gets his hostility from the steep bounce he extracts because of his height.
Southee and Boult were marvellous with controlled swing and seam, Jamieson and Wagner attacked with sustained short-pitched deliveries, and the Indian batting crumbled once again. What was noteworthy was how well these bowlers varied lines and lengths from different batsmen. In comparison, the 23 overs India bowled before close were lacklustre. There was covert attempt to intimidate the openers with the short stuff, but it didn’t work because neither Latham nor Blundell were going to be hustled into indiscretion, as the Indian batsmen had been.
Bumrah, Shami and Umesh were at least a yard shorter than needed to get swing or lateral movement off the pitch that could put the batsmen under scrutiny. In the event, the openers were able to defang them fairly easily.
It is hazardous to make predictions after just one day. The history of sport is littered with examples of sterling fightbacks and turnarounds. But so far on this tour, the Indian team hasn’t quite looked the part, leave aside playing like the world’s top ranked Test team....