In the pre-match press conference, Ajinkya Rahane had emphasized the importance of being proactive under trying circumstances.
"Keeping the mindset right in seaming conditions even if you lose the toss is really important.", he stressed. No doubt the going was tough as India were forced to negotiate New Zealand's venomous pace attack on Basin Reserve's green seamer amid windy conditions. However, notwithstanding the pitch's ferocity, survival wasn't impossible if batsmen were willing enough to grind.
But Rahane's fellow teammates threw his golden advice to the dogs and succumbed to New Zealand's hostility offering minimal resistance. Nevertheless, the middle-order bulwark enhanced his overseas reputation and held India's fort with a gritty unbeaten 38 before rain truncated the day's proceedings. Patience and maturity were the hallmarks of Rahane's enterprising knock which salvaged India's pride, albeit marginally.
Technical expertise was of paramount importance if India stood any chance of countering the prodigious swing New Zealand were yearning to unleash. And India's incompetence got exposed forthwith as Prithvi Shaw, his front-foot glued to the crease, played all around Tim Southee's jagging shooter and had his furniture rearranged.
Likewise, Mayank Agarwal cracked the odd drive, flick, or glance to shrug off the early jitters but looked majorly out of sorts during his 84-ball vigil, getting beaten frequently while also nicking through slips often and consequently, thanking the heavens for good fortune.
Although the inexperienced youngsters and Cheteshwar Pujara, who got tricked by an absolute peach, deserve to be cut some slack, Virat Kohli's dismissal was plain shocking. Having already gifted his wicket away time and again by chasing wide luring half-volleys, the skipper fell for the trap for the umpteenth time in his international career, leaving the visitors staring down the barrel at 40/3.
The captain, expected to lead the path, showing zero responsibility and perishing in such a horrendous manner doesn't set a great example for the batsmen to follow.
Hanuma Vihari's cheap departure did little to reverse the damage, but Rahane, undoubtedly India's most technically accomplished batsman, ensured the blows didn't lead to a reprehensible collapse.
Even though Kyle Jamieson's lateral movement squared him up once in a while and Trent Boult's angling deliveries occasionally whizzed past his outside edge, the elegant right-hander grafted tirelessly, negating the quicks and spinners alike with his compact defensive game. That he let pass overpitched looseners unpunished and instead focused on seeing through the rough patches speaks highly of his commitment towards the rebuilding job in hand.
Wellington's fiery track provided India's heavyweights a brutal reality check, but Rahane cleared all hurdles unscathed and emerged as the silver lining. With Rishabh Pant finding Jamieson's bounce awkward to handle, it wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that the seasoned campaigner might have to play a lone battle ahead.
Some terrible shot-selection coupled with New Zealand's unforgiving lengths does mean India have lost ascendancy prematurely, but if Rahane can keep the hosts at bay and help India post a respectable first-innings total moving forward, his rescue-act could well prove the decisive factor in the match's context.Published 21 Feb 2020, 14:06 IST