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Pacers strike after McCullum double

New Zealand dominates after captain's 224 powers it to 503, with India ending second day at 130 for 4

Pacers strike after McCullum double - Cricket News
Neil Wagner returned figures of 4 for 64.

India had its moments on the first day of the first Test, but day two at Eden Park was singularly one-sided. Friday’s (February 7) play was dominated entirely by New Zealand, first as Brendon McCullum converted his overnight 143 into a second Test double hundred (224), and then when the fast bowlers fired out India’s first three wickets in just 34 deliveries.

For all the talk of pace and bounce, it was instead old-fashioned swing that New Zealand used as the weapon of destruction when India began its riposte to the home side’s 503, midway through the second session. Trent Boult needed just three deliveries to compound Shikhar Dhawan’s misery, and Cheteshwar Pujara fell for the old three-card trick, also third ball, as India was rocked just one over into its first innings.

When Virat Kohli, India’s most accomplished batsman alongside Pujara, was caught in the slip cordon, India was 10 for 3 in 5.4 overs, Ishant Sharma’s fourth five-wicket haul earlier in the day relegated to the background. New Zealand, 30 for 3 on the first day, had found heroes in Kane Williamson and McCullum. Rohit Sharma put his hand up for India, oozing class on his way to an unbeaten 67 when bad light brought a premature end to the day’s action. Play will begin at 10.34 am (local time) on Saturday to make up for time lost.

With Ajinkya Rahane for company, Rohit took India to 130 for 4, still 373 behind. But plenty of work lies on the morrow, on a pitch where the new ball has done the bulk of the damage but where it is not so difficult to bed in and bat through if one cuts out the extravagant stroke.

Extravagance was the name when India came out to bat. Boult has made a name for himself as a consummate left-arm swing bowler who can shape the ball away from the left-hand batsman. It seemed to make no impact on Dhawan, who tried to work the ball to leg, only for the leading edge to fly low to the right of fifth slip. Dhawan himself had put down a catch off the seventh ball of the match; Kane Williamson wasn’t to return the favour, moving swiftly to pouch the offering.

If that wasn’t a bad enough start, more woe awaited India. Boult swung two back in to Pujara, then threw up one wide outside the offstump that shaped away from the batsman. Expecting another inswinger, Pujara found himself drawn inexorably to the ball as he reached way out and edged an intended cover-drive to BJ Watling behind the sticks. Eden Park had no more than 1,000 spectators on day two, and there was stunned silence all around – at the dramatic start, at the unexpected poor stroke from Pujara.

Kohli was undone by a lovely short delivery from Tim Southee that was in the perfect channel. Seeking to keep the ball down, Kohli got the right thumb and the ball then pinged his helmet on its way to second slip. The batsman didn’t seem impressed with the decision, but there is no doubting that he did glove it.

M Vijay, carrying on from South Africa where he was extremely aware of the location of his offstump, and Rohit put together the first meaningful stand of the innings. It was worth just 41, but it at least temporarily stemmed the rot. Rohit took his time, focusing to begin with on occupying the crease, but Vijay was unafraid to play his strokes, a whip off his toes from Boult the best of his shots.

It took a special from Neil Wagner to end the resistance. Bowling from round the stumps and well wide of the stumps, Wagner got the ball to swing in to Vijay from outside off, then straighten on pitching to hurry through, open the batsman up and hit the top of off. It was fabulous bowling and Vijay simply could have done nothing about it.

Rohit, increasingly fluent with time, flowered to play beautifully off the back foot, timing and caressing the ball through the covers and finding the boundary despite the heavy outfield. After a poor tour of South Africa, Rohit needed this knock for his own confidence, as much as anything else. Now, having got a start, it is imperative that he kicks on, especially with India so far behind the eight-ball.

McCullum’s masterpiece is just the inspiration Rohit needs to emulate, if he indeed is looking for motivation. New Zealand’s captain, under a little bit of artificial pressure coming into this game, allowed Corey Anderson, then Southee and Ish Sodhi to do the running on the second morning as he played well within himself, quietly closing in on a double even as the big strokes came at the other end.

No one played those big strokes better, or more frequently, than Anderson. He teed off with a drive off Zaheer Khan that skirted behind point, then edged Ishant to third man before playing a fine glance in the same over to bring up his 50. Like the previous afternoon, India’s quicks again bowled too short; Ishant tried asking Anderson questions but the big left-hander was equal to the task, playing the pull with such aplomb that banging the ball in at modest pace never seemed a smart option.

When Ishant did pitch the ball a little further up, he was more effective. He showed great heart during a nine-over spell in the morning that brought him 2 for 60 on his way to his fourth five-for. Anderson was the first of his four victims on the day, somewhat unfortunate to be adjudged leg before as the ball headed over the stumps and down leg – Steve Davis saw it otherwise – after a stand of 133, and Watling followed suit, edging an Ishant drive to third slip.

India, though, continued to bowl with profligacy as New Zealand scored at a frenetic pace. McCullum only occasionally played the big drives but Southee helped himself to easy runs as Ishant banged the ball in and the batsman played the pull, convincingly and otherwise.

It needed a fuller length from Mohammed Shami to pluck Southee’s leg pole out but there was no stopping McCullum now. With lunch approaching, he quickly got on the bike with particular fondness for Ravindra Jadeja, whom he smashed for a six and four in the last over before the break to reach his second double ton.

India had conceded 144 runs in the first session in just 24 overs, but after lunch, Ishant cleaned up the tail in quick time. McCullum was last man dismissed after an almost eight-hour vigil, Jadeja showing excellent presence of mind at long-on by completing the catch, throwing the ball up when he realised he was going out of bounds, then sauntering back in to settle under the ball. It needed something out of the world to get rid of McCullum, who has most likely conjured the innings that has shaped the destiny of this game.