Even though the pitch was conducive for his style of operation with the early morning moisture, in particular, making batting uncomfortable, the 24-year old bowler from Christchurch produced an impressive spell to push the hosts on the back foot.
The Kiwis were dealt a massive blow ahead of the match with skipper Kane Williamson ruled out due to sickness. The experienced Ross Taylor stepped in and conceded a decisive toss to his counterpart. Matt Henry, Henry Nicholls, and Jeetan Patel came into the side as Ish Sodhi was surprisingly left out. For the hosts, Shikhar Dhawan replaced the injured KL Rahul while Bhuvneshwar Kumar got an opportunity ahead of Umesh Yadav.
Henry takes early scalp
Almost immediately after the iconic Kapil Dev kick started a new tradition by ringing the bell before the start of play, Henry struck in his opening over to remove an edgy Dhawan by cramping him for room.
Utilising the copious bounce on offer, he hit the surface hard and induced a false shot from the left-hander. With Trent Boult also causing all sorts of problems at the other end, India’s top-order knew they were in for a fight.
After troubling Cheteshwar Pujara with a delivery that threatened to angle-in only to hold its line, Henry tried to exert the extra effort and could only stray on the pads of the Saurashtra batsman who punished him by plundering consecutive boundaries.
Meanwhile, Murali Vijay adopted his customary watchfulness in an attempt to weather the tough period.
The right-arm seamer was seeking to create an awkward angle for the batsmen by using the crease to a considerable extent. But, umpire Rod Tucker warned him for running on the pitch during his follow through. In the very next delivery, Henry secured the prize scalp of Vijay with an unplayable one. Going wider off the crease, he lured the stoic opener by combining the angle with a fuller length and BJ Watling snapped up a safe catch behind the stumps.
With Virat Kohli arriving on to the middle, there was a temptation to keep Henry on for a few more overs and probe the Indian skipper’s weakness outside the off-stump. However, Taylor decided to give him a bit of a breather while turning to spin. Following four uneventful overs from Mitchell Santner, he brought back Boult who instantly rewarded him by sending back Kohli.
Pujara and Rahane rebuild innings
In a brief burst after lunch, Henry could not sustain the pressure as he seemed to try too many things to destabilise Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane. Even though Neil Wagner continued to keep the batsmen on their toes with an energetic effort, the duo thwarted the Kiwis’ plans by stitching together a resilient partnership. Soon, the runs started to flow rather smoothly from both.
When it looked like they were gradually putting India on the ascendancy, Eden Gardens’ fabled curse of yielding a flurry of wickets on the third session began to take effect. Wagner delivered the breakthrough by coercing Pujara into an inexplicable drive and the wheels came off rapidly.
Rohit Sharma’s struggles at the Test level refused to abate as he faltered to judge the length for the umpteenth time in his career.
In the aftermath, Rahane too perished to a smart piece of bowling from Patel, all-rounder Ravichandran Ashwin tried to counter attack by timing three delectable boundaries off Santner.
Henry takes another with the new ball
As soon as the second new ball became available, Taylor turned to Henry for another scalp. The Canterbury cricketer responded to his captain’s call with the timely wicket of Ashwin to end the day with figures of 15-6-35-3 as India found themselves precariously placed at 239/7.
With Ravindra Jadeja and Wriddhiman Saha still at the crease, the first session of tomorrow’s play should gain plenty of significance. While the Blackcaps will be eager to polish off the innings, India might want the lower-order to hang around for some more time and push the total in the vicinity of 275-300.