The brouhaha that surrounds every home Test that India play has started creating a bit of a nuisance. On a good first day track, India, after having begun well, gave the advantage away to the Kiwis towards the end of the second session and throughout the third season, to finish at 291/9 at Stumps. Immediately, questions were being raised about the surface on which the game was played, to an extent that the curator, Shiv Kumar, had to come out and defend the wicket that was prepared.
It was on the second day that his words rang a bell in everyone’s ears when two New Zealand batsmen applied themselves better than any Indian batsman had on day 1 and batted for two sessions without being dismissed. Tom Latham – Martin Guptill’s junior opening partner – and Kane Williamson, who could well be hailed as one of the best top-order batsmen in world cricket at the moment, took their team from 35/1 in the first session to 152/1 at Stumps.
Although India ended the day still pondering over the team selection and thinking whether they were one bowler short, at the start of the day, it was India’s highest wicket-taker in 2016, (who is also the highest run-scorer this year) Ravichandran Ashwin, and his partner-in-crime Ravindra Jadeja, who were the topics of discussion. New Zealand’s perceived weakness against spin was talked about and so was the possibility of India’s first innings score being enough for the game, after reminiscing the match results against South Africa last year.
Williamson and Latham thwart the spin threat
What was not given a second thought, though, was the class that Williamson possessed, and while anything is possible on the remaining three days, the way the New Zealand captain batted on Day 2 is enough substance to prove that the Indians aren’t going to spin the web around him that easily. More importantly, and perhaps more surprisingly, it was Latham’s innings that helped shape up the game.
It wasn’t just the fluent strokeplay or the ability to put bad balls for boundaries that set them apart. Rather, it was their continuous rotation of the strike that made the difference and spoiled the plans that Kohli and his bowlers devised at different stages.
Williamson’s defence was a treat to watch, especially how he read the length early, covered the line of the ball and presented the full face of the bat. The only thing that gave him away was his reaction after he nicked a Jadeja delivery to the keeper, even as the umpire failed to spot that. Other than that, throughout his 115-ball innings, the skipper looked supremely confident in his strokeplay.
Latham, on the other hand, was surprisingly good against spin. While the odd delivery that spun sharply and bounced did beat his bat, but barring the bat-pad to KL Rahul – which hit the Indian fielder’s helmet, before resting in his hands – Latham’s innings was solid. He used the sweep shot to good effect, and whenever there was a hint of space offered outside off, the Kiwi was quick to latch on to it.
Equally good against the pacers
Together, Williamson and Latham put up an unbeaten stand of 117 runs for the second wicket and finished with scores of 65 and 56 to their names respectively. Incidentally, this was the first 100-run stand by a foreign batting pair on Indian soil since 2013.
It wasn’t just the spinners that were dealt with. The pacers as well, in Umesh Yadav and Mohammad Shami, were negotiated with some skill. While Shami and Umesh were given only a few overs with the new ball, when they were brought back with the old ball, to extract whatever reverse swing that was on offer, the Kiwi duo was up for it too.
Shami was slammed straight down the ground on one occasion, and was clipped off the pads towards square leg on another by Latham, while Williamson pulled an Umesh Yadav short ball, that was barely waist high, with some disdain through midwicket.
There was a short span of a morale-boosting victory for the Kiwis, when Murali Vijay, for one over, was asked to conjure up a golden arm. He produced a peach – a ball that pitched full and just on off and spun sharply away from the left-handed Latham – but immediately followed it with a short and wide ball that was thumped through the covers for four.
That was that for Vijay, as far as bowling his off-spinners was concerned, and the tired Indian bowlers went to tea with absolutely no success in the second session.