Hyderabad: Having raised visions of a stirring fightback, New Zealand imploded for the second time in as many days to slump to an embarrassing innings and 115-run humbling in the first Test against India.
Through Brendon McCullum, playing out of character with emphasis on occupation of the crease rather than flamboyant stroke-making, and Kane Williamson, the impressive right-hand bat who once again showed great gumption and application, New Zealand were making a brave fist of thwarting India’s charge at the Rajiv Gandhi International Cricket Stadium in Hyderabad.
Once the second-wicket association was terminated by Steve Davis’ finger of doom, the fight went prematurely out of New Zealand. 41 for one when the fourth day’s play began two hours behind schedule at 11.00 am due to heavy overnight and early morning rain, New Zealand were rolled over for 164 after being forced to follow on, 279 behind on the first count.
India’s bowlers had appeared a little listless and somewhat shorn of ideas when McCullum and Williamson were together. That was as much to do with the fact that the two batsmen handled the spin duo of R Ashwin, who completed his maiden ten-wicket match haul, and Pragyan Ojha with plenty of composure, as the fact that the pitch held together nicely because it had been under covers for a long time and because the effect of the roller was negating any purchase the spinners might have got.
The 90-minute session to lunch was all about McCullum and Williamson, but once Umesh Yadav, with no little help from Davis, snipped that stand in the third over on resumption, India were all over New Zealand like a bad rash.
Like in the first innings, Ashwin (6 for 54) mushroomed into a giant proposition post lunch with his great control as well as his willingness to bring his variations into play against the lower order. His second six-wicket innings haul gave him match figures of 12 for 85, thoroughly deserved, even if New Zealand didn’t exactly cover themselves in glory.
Apart from Ashwin’s incisiveness and Ojha’s relentless probing, what stood out most on Saturday was India’s excellent close-in catching. Virender Sehwag was the star with two brilliant catches at slip, the one to his right diving full length to get rid of James Franklin easily the catch of the match, while Virat Kohli wasn’t far behind.
Seldom, though, will victory come India’s way so easily again. New Zealand had promised a fight, and till McCullum and Williamson were around, it appeared as if that talk hadn’t been an empty boast. McCullum’s dismissal, adjudged leg before to Umesh Yadav when he inside-edged the ball on to his pads, sent them into an inexorable tailspin, Ross Taylor’s inexplicable shouldering of arms to a sharp Ashwin offbreak without putting up a second line of defence indicative of the turmoil and uncertainty in the New Zealand minds.
Perhaps, the New Zealand batsmen sitting in the pavilion hadn’t paid too much notice when McCullum, putting mind over matter, and Williamson were batting. The loose balls – and there weren’t many – were put away with nonchalant ease while the good ones were kept away as they both played the ball late, right under their eyes and with soft hands. After an extended stint of spin with both ends, Mahendra Singh Dhoni turned to Zaheer Khan, but well as Zaheer bowled, success wasn’t forthcoming.
Yadav wasn’t brought on until the penultimate over before lunch – the 24th of the day – and struck with his 13th delivery, ending the 72-run stand between McCullum and Williamson, even if somewhat fortuitously. The wheels then came off, the last eight wickets tumbling for just 66 in next to no time.
Taylor’s dismissal was followed by a brief period of resistance involving Williamson and Daniel Flynn. It was a phase during which Ojha was off the firing line – he didn’t bowl for nearly two hours – but when Dhoni brought his left-arm spinner back, Ojha responded immediately with an absolute beauty.
He got one to drift in towards Williamson, till then in total command, and then break away from the batsman to catch the splice and offer Sehwag at slip a very simple catch. It was a special delivery; it needed to be one to evict Williamson, given the defensive authority with which he defied India for nearly three and a half hours.
From there on, the procession continued unabated. Ashwin spun a magical web of deceit around the lower order with offbreaks, the doosra and the carrom ball all thrown in. Like in the first innings, Chris Martin was his sixth and final victim to signal victory and send upwards of 20,000 fans into delirium. 1-0 up now, with the second Test beginning in Bangalore on August 31.