While the 50-overs format has undergone a complete overhaul in the last few years or so with burgeoning bats, bowlers falling prey to placid pitches and shorter boundaries skyrocketing totals, the essence of Test cricket still remains the same. Openers continue to see off the new-ball, middle-order consolidates and the tail wags to frustrate the opposition bowlers.
However, in recent times, scoring-rates in the game’s traditional format have somehow managed to come under scrutiny.
India’s skipper Virat Kohli is among those calling for urgency from his batsmen. He has even gone on to publicly ask Cheteshwar Pujara to lift his strike-rate contrary to what the customary norm demands from a number three. Interestingly, on a day wherein the captain himself scored a stellar ton and India proceeded at 2.96 runs per over, Pujara addressed the press conference.
On the thriving debate surrounding scoring-rates in Tests, the Saurashtra batsman felt, “What the message was given was to play with intent. When it comes to Test cricket, we don’t need to focus much on strike rate, but on positive intent. On such wickets, you can’t keep on scoring runs and have a strike rate of more than 70 or 80. You have to bat as per the situations. You have to know what the team requires.”
Upon winning their third consecutive toss of the series, India lost a couple of early wickets with Murali Vijay prised out by a freakish catch and comeback man Gautam Gambhir‘s semi-Chanderpaul stance contributing to his own dismissal. However, Pujara attempted to rescue the innings alongside Kohli, who needed a substantial knock. Recognising the importance of spending some time and building the innings, the skipper traded his stroke-play for a more restrained approach.
Though Pujara perished due to a momentary error in judgment, Kohli was not to be tempted by inviting deliveries from both pace and spin. Admittedly, his inherent nature to feel bat on ball remained intact. But, he did not lose control at any point of time and forged a vital partnership with Ajinkya Rahane, who played a valiant hand after being tested by the short ball relentlessly.
On Kohli getting the first hundred of the series from either side, Pujara believed, “Century was not made, but good scores were made and the top order is getting runs. We were aware that one batsman from the top six must get 100 and we got it today. It’s a landmark, but once we get 50 plus it’s still a good score. Virat and Ajinkya batted really well. Virat played a very good innings and Ajinkya too batted well. Their partnership was crucial and if the partnership carries on tomorrow, it will be good for us.”
India ended the day at 267/3 from the prescribed quota of 90 overs with both Kohli and Rahane unbeaten on 103 and 79 respectively. On the other hand, New Zealand desperately need a handful of early scalps to stay in the contest. Even though the bowlers toiled hard without much rewards, all rounder James Neesham pointed out to the fact that the run-rate was not allowed to exceed three runs per over.
Kiwis still upbeat despite lack of wickets
Coming into the side after missing the first couple of Tests due to a rib injury, Neesham bowled 11 overs and fulfilled the holding role by conceding only 27 runs. He chose to remain optimistic despite the ominous task awaiting his side on the next few days. He claimed, “Keeping the run rate below three was a good achievement. Couple of quick wickets tomorrow and we are still in the game.”
The pitch began to assist spinners as early as in the first session itself. Not surprisingly, captain Kane Williamson took off his pacers from both ends after giving them only two overs each with the new ball. Though run-scoring did not seem to particularly easy, the batsmen were able to negotiate the likes of Mitchell Santner and Jeetan Patel without too much fuss.
From a seamer’s perspective, Neesham lamented, “I don’t know if we could have done it a whole lot different with the ball. We stuck at it well. It was tough work for the seamers. There was not a lot of bounce or lateral movement. If you can’t get the ball reverse swinging, it’s difficult with their quality batsmen. We started a touch loose but over the day, we kept a lid on the run rate. But, Ajinkya and Virat batted well for most of the second half of day – India’s honours in the end.”
He added, “It was a bit cooler than the first two Tests, so better from a hydration point of view. There wasn’t a whole lot of lateral movement, so hard to get guys out. Hopefully, spinners can get more out of it as it starts to break up.” With the second new-ball only ten overs old, New Zealand have a window of opportunity to strike early on day 2. If they don’t, another long day could await them.