The dice was loaded in New Zealand’s favour as they won the toss and enjoyed the first bite of the cherry in conditions tailor-made for swing and seam. And they made hay with three bumper strikes within the first half of the day before Virat Kohli (44*) and Ajinkya Rahane (28*) dug in to steer India to safer shores. Bad light was a constant companion in the final session and forced Stumps prematurely with the contest hanging in balance at 146/3.
Asked to do the repair job with the top three back in the hut, Kohli and Rahane brought their A-game to the table and stitched a 58-run stand built on solid defence and loads of patience. Kohli produced a flurry of trademark cover drives and Rahane was growing in confidence too when the dark clouds looming overhead deemed the visibility unfit for play.
Earlier, India’s openers put on an exhibition of technical compactness to see off the new ball. While Shubman Gill shimmied down the track to curb the lateral movement and intercept the ball early, Rohit Sharma’s toe was pointed perfectly towards mid-off to keep the inswingers at bay. New Zealand were not quite on the money with their lengths and the dashing duo took full toll.
Rohit stood tall and punched a few gorgeously off the backfoot as Gill rode on the bounce to unleash a couple of thundering pulls. Although the youngster’s tactic to charge at the bowler backfired when he copped a bouncer flush on the helmet grille off Kyle Jamieson. The lanky quick would soon prove to be the breakthrough provider, cutting short the 62-run alliance, as Rohit departed nicking to third slip for 34. The catch went low and fast to his right, but Tim Southee was safe as houses.
Gill then perished edging behind to Neil Wagner, who was launched into the attack as late as the 25th over but struck with his third ball itself. New Zealand had turned the tide in a span of four overs, threatening to walk away with the honours in a session that they started off on the wrong foot.
Cheteshwar Pujara, who took 36 balls to get off the mark and was dinged on the visor once, and Virat Kohli had to bide their time with New Zealand conceding a mere 12 runs in 10 overs after Lunch. Colin de Grandhomme bowled in tight channels and posed problems for Kohli, swinging his medium-pacers across his front pad and testing the outside edge in the process.
Just as it seemed like Pujara and Kohli have waded through the probing phase, an inspired bowling change from Kane Williamson took the former out of the equation. Boult was made to return for a short burst and tailed one back in prodigiously to trap Pujara plumb for 8 off 54 deliveries. But the exit of an anchor made way for another as Rahane joined forces with Kohli to steady India’s sinking ship.
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