Nagpur:Until the toss, even at it, it was all going New Zealand's way. The pitch was expected to be flat, the wet outfield had done away with the morning session, the toss had been won, India's best bowler had been ruled out due to injury, and yet it all went wrong for New Zealand. Once again, India's bowling unit put in an important performance just when people had stopped expecting one from them, giving the hosts a big chance of finally putting one across New Zealand.
Sreesanth found swing and accuracy in his first spell to remove the openers, then Ishant Sharma, playing his first Test since his batting heroics in Mohali, got a change of ends, extracted occasional inswing, and was rewarded with the wickets of Ross Taylor and Daniel Vettori.
Jesse Ryder and Brendon McCullum - struggling with injured calf and sore back respectively - fought heroically, but India stayed in control through patient cricket. Since they were carrying injuries into the match, neither of the batsmen was allowed a runner. They could run only about half the runs they would have, and their hobbling association added only 42 in 19.3 overs, which didn't hurt India too much after they had restricted the visitors to 51 for 5, and then 82 for 6.
It did look like India, too, had been distracted by the injuries, for they stopped doing what had got them wickets. Instead they spread the field, asking the batsmen to run all their runs, and asked their fast bowlers to bowl bouncers to put more stress on the batsmen's injured bodies, giving up the fuller lengths that had brought them the early returns.
Ryder, who pulled his calf when sweeping Pragyan Ojha for a single that took him to 36, added 23 more, running all but four of them. In fact all of New Zealand's last 88 runs came in either fours or ones. Still the two didn't give up, creating some hope for the visitors, in case they could stay unseparated till stumps. Eight overs before bad light intervened, though, a Ryder cut off Harbhajan Singh became a low catch for Suresh Raina.
McCullum continued to fight it out, staying unbeaten on 34 off 80 balls, getting into the stance to face each of which seemed to strain his back. Around noon, such pain wouldn't even have been thought of. When Daniel Vettori was walking out for the toss, though, he saw McCullum land awkwardly during fielding practice, and then come down with a back strain. A quick decision had to be made, and New Zealand went with the man who scored a double-century to save the Hyderabad Test, prepared to have him bat in the middle order.
The specialist batsmen, though, hardly gave McCullum any recovery time as all but Ryder joined him off the field by the 16th over. McCullum wasn't ready to bat even when Vettori became the fifth man to fall, in the next over. Playing McCullum - and even choosing to bat first - is a decision that will be debated long and hard in New Zealand, for it could have upset the whole team's mindset, but it should not take away from Sreesanth's first spell, or Ishant's second.
Sreesanth took some time to get into rhythm. He failed to involve the batsman for the first seven balls he bowled, operating wide outside off. Perhaps it helped that there was no McCullum eager to hurt him as he warmed himself up into a rhythm. By the time he started making the batsmen play, he also started getting swing. Martin Guptill, who scored 85 at No. 3 in Hyderabad, got the best of Sreesanth. It was a back-of-a-length delivery, pitching off, making Guptill play, then shaping away a bit to take the edge. What's more, it wasn't a no-ball,
By now Sreesanth had started getting the ball to swing in towards the left-handed opener, Tim McIntosh. One of those squeezed through the gap, although the loose defence made it look more spectacular than it was.
Ross Taylor did something similar against Ishant. With his across movement on the crease, he was always going to be susceptible to anything moving in sharply. Ishant produced one of those, and Simon Taufel correctly judged that he was hit just in front of off.
Vettori, usually just the man for these situations, was bent on pulling everything short and paid the price for it. It is a shot that has got Vettori many runs, but today he could play it only twice. One of them got him an ungainly single, and the other he dragged onto the stumps from way outside off. Between those two Ishant strikes, Kane Williamson's dismissal summed up New Zealand's day. It was a full delivery from Ojha, innocuous, promising to land close enough to him, but somehow Williamson managed to scoop it to short cover.