At the start of New Zealand’s innings, there were quite a few reasons for the Indian fan to be apprehensive. An aggressive 10th wicket stand by the two hometown boys Wriddhiman Saha and Mohammed Shami had taken India’s score beyond 300, but there were doubts as to whether enough had been achieved. Secondly, the pitch had assisted seamers more than spinners, and it looked as if the home team had missed a trick by not playing a third seamer.
Much has been made of Indian spinners strangling visiting teams on turning Indian tracks, but this was not to be the case in the Eden Test. Only 1 of the 7 Kiwi wickets to have fallen on the day was claimed by a spinner. The last time spin has been held back by India till the 15th over was more than 10 years ago.
On Saturday, the tone was set with a wicket in Shami’s very first over – Tom Latham caught plumb on his pad with an incoming delivery. Shami’s face broke out in a wide beam, a smile which would from then on only be interrupted by inclement weather.
Enter into the fray Bhuvneshwar Kumar! Bhuvneshwar, who had only made a Test comeback in the West Indies series in August this year and is only in the XI because of Ishant Sharma’s layoff and Umesh Yadav not being very productive in the last 2 Tests, came up with a performance that has to be one of the most impressive spells of seam bowling ever on Indian pitches.
In the third over of the Kiwi innings, Bhuvneshwar got a ball to ricochet off Martin Guptill's elbow onto his stumps. Four overs later, Henry Nichols was similarly unfortunate in playing one down to his stumps. NZ suddenly found themselves at 23/3 and in all sorts of trouble. Bhuvneshwar and Shami bowled 7 overs each before spin was brought on.
The hour of Bhuvneshwar
After the rain interruption at tea, less than an hour of play was possible, and it was this hour that Bhuvneshwar made his own. Ashwin had been taken for three boundaries in an over, and the New Zealand batsmen (led by captain Ross Taylor) were playing their strokes to the spinners. So, with the added menace of fading light to boot, the seamers were brought back on by India.
If Kumar’s bowling had made the batsmen look tentative in the afternoon session, in the evening session they looked clueless. Bhuvneshwar made one delivery hold the line and got Taylor to edge a delivery to slip, who left with a humourless smile.
Mitchell Santner followed the captain into the dressing room soon, as Bhuvneshwar caught him plumb on the pads with an inswinging delivery that kept low. The very next ball, as the visitors’ innings lay in tatters, Bhuvi struck again. Mark Henry stood fixed to a spot as another inswinging low delivery got through his defence and crashed onto the stumps. New Zealand were 122/7, Bhuvneshwar was on a hat-trick, having already picked up his fifth wicket of the day.
Bhuvneshwar had claimed his first ever five wicket haul on Indian soil. The other three 5Ws in his career, one of which was against West Indies in the recent series, were all taken on foreign pitches.
The light was found to be inadequate a few overs later, and New Zealand were put out of their misery by the umpires’ decision to call off play till another day. They trail the home side by 188 runs with 3 wickets remaining. As the Indian players gathered at the centre of the field, there was a heartfelt hug between Bhuvneshwar and captain Kohli.
Then, as Bhuvi turned around to greet his other teammates, he felt a grip on his right arm. It was captain Kohli, who was pushing him to the front of the players, asking him to lead the team off the field. Day 2 had certainly been Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s day, and captain Kohli could hardly not recognise this.