Amidst plenty of expectations, India’s home season comprising of as many as 13 Tests kick started at Kanpur with the added historical weight of 500 stamped all over it. Despite the stadium named ‘Green Park’, the lushness was restricted only to the outfield as a traditional subcontinental turner awaited New Zealand.
Skipper Virat Kohli won a crucial toss and hence had the luxury of avoiding to bat last on a surface which was expected to deteriorate as the overs trickled by. Despite a solid start to the innings, the question marks surrounding their batting lineup’s ability to pile on formidable totals remained as India could only manage 318. Having gotten themselves to 159/1, the Kiwis let slip the momentum by collapsing in a heap to spin.
Buoyed by securing a handy lead, the hosts’ batsmen operated with much more efficiency in the second innings to set a daunting target for the Blackcaps. Truly up against it, New Zealand perished once again to the turning ball as India stormed their way towards a 197-run victory to take a 1-0 lead in the 3-match series.
Let’s take a look at who did what to influence the fascinating contest.
Ravichandran Ashwin – 8.5
Undoubtedly one of the most valuable players in Tests at the moment, the tall off-spinner from Tamil Nadu added another feather to his cap by becoming the second quickest bowler ever to complete 200 wickets. By getting rid of the seemingly immovable Kane Williamson in both innings, Ashwin reiterated his class and also sealed the deal with a six-wicket haul during the second dig.
Ravindra Jadeja – 8.5
Possessing metronomic accuracy, Jadeja did not do any wrong to his burgeoning reputation as a menace under Indian conditions. The left-arm spinner was the pick of the bowlers during the first dig with a five-for and sustained the pressure in the second by not giving an inch to the opposition. With the bat, his handy cameos bolstered the home team’s credentials down the order.
Cheteshwar Pujara – 8
Arriving into the match on the back of an amazing run of form in the Duleep Trophy, Pujara made significant strides towards reestablishing himself as a dependable batsman at the pivotal number three spot. Though he scored fifties in both innings, the right-hander could not build upon them and reach three figures which should keep him hungry for the rest of the series.
Murali Vijay – 8
Forming hundred-plus partnerships in both essays with Pujara, the reliable opener also eked out twin fifties. Despite the circumstances testing his temperament, he did not veer away from his usual watchfulness and set a solid foundation from the top of the order. However, the loose shot in the first innings which ended a deft knock may not please him at all.
Rohit Sharma – 6
With his place in the Test team under immense scrutiny, the elegant stroke-maker looked like getting into the groove during the opening day before throwing it all away by virtue of an incomprehensible stroke. He did manage to chip in with an attacking half-century when India were seeking quick runs in the second innings.
KL Rahul – 6
Eager to adhere to the aggressive dynamics of the ‘Kohli Era’, Rahul attempted to go down the Virender Sehwag route. But, he was not able to harness his instincts and succumbed to lapses in concentration after getting off to strong starts. In close-in positions, the 24-year old’s catching did not exactly inspire much confidence.
Mohammed Shami – 6
Aware that his job might be restricted to a few overs at the start of the innings before coming back if reverse-swing was on offer, Shami showed glimpses of operating at full throttle with the rapid old-ball spell in the second innings highlighting his value to India’s bowling attack.
Wriddhiman Saha – 5.5
Even though he fell prey to an unplayable delivery from Trent Boult without troubling the scorers, the wicket-keeper batsman redeemed himself by continuing his dexterous work behind the stumps especially against the two different types of spinners.
Umesh Yadav – 5.5
Being preferred over Bhuvneshwar Kumar for his propensity to extract reverse-swing on these abrasive tracks, the strongly-built pacer sent down 15 overs in the first innings and accounted for Martin Guptill whilst keeping things quiet as well.
Ajinkya Rahane – 5
Offering stability in the middle-order, the diminutive Mumbaikar could not reach his usual lofty standards due to slight errors in judgment. By playing predominantly on the front-foot, he exposed his plan to the Kiwi spinners who duly capitalized.
Virat Kohli – 4
Walking into the middle amidst raucous cheers from a partisan crowd, Kohli flattered to deceive by taking miscalculated risks in both innings. Apart from the declaration which might have raised a few minor apprehensions, his captaincy remained spot-on for the most part.