Having rained down on India's World Cup parade, arch-nemesis Trent Boult yet again proved the thorn in the flesh. The wiry left-arm seamer produced an exhibition of hostile fast bowling to dismantle India's top order, leaving the visitors clutching at straws, still trailing by 39 runs at stumps on Day 3. Taking nothing away from New Zealand's pace spearhead, there were majorly self-induced elementary errors which deserve the share of the blame as India's longer-format hegemony stands on the verge of being disrupted in brutal fashion. Touted as prime favourites right from the outset, Virat Kohli's men have suddenly become the underdogs courtesy their lackluster batting displays.
The nosedive started with Boult exposing Prithvi Shaw's faulty defensive technique. Boult probed the inexperienced youngster with fuller stuff before unleashing a sharp rib-tickler to catch him napping on the backfoot. Mayank Agarwal and Cheteshwar Pujara joined forces to stem the rot with New Zealand's speed merchants spitting fire amidst helpful windy conditions. Though Agarwal's flamboyant strokeplay grabbed eyeballs and vindicated the hard work he'd done behind the scenes to rectify errors, Pujara's torrid run continued. The seasoned campaigner's trademark blockathon - 11 runs from 81 balls - did little to reverse the damage and was eventually terminated when he got castled shouldering arms to Boult's jagging in-ducker. A horrendous misjudgment one would never expect from India's perennial sheet-anchor, that too when his services were required desperately.
Much to India's relief, the cherry's lacquer had worn away appreciably as the game progressed and the surface, notwithstanding paltry lateral movement, wasn't lurking any significant demons. The flamboyant opener shifted gears midway through his knock, launching spinner Ajaz Patel over long-off before unfurling few imperious short-arm jabs and sweeps to reach his well compiled half-century. India had only briefly gathered momentum when Tim Southee proved another roadblock, nabbing Agarwal down the leg, caught by BJ Watling. Their crusade towards ascendancy was halted prematurely, and the onus now lay on Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane to guide India forward and salvage their pride.
However, the skipper staying true to his assertive go-getter reputation, couldn't resist hooking Boult's bouncer and nicked behind tamely. The rampaging quick had netted the big fish once more, leaving India staring down the barrel at 113-4. Understandably, Kohli wants to exert his authority and dominate proceedings. The shot could have been nothing but a mere reflex action, but considering the precarious match situation, respecting the bowler and curbing his natural instincts would have certainly been the smarter option from the team's perspective.
Nevertheless, Rahane and Hanuma Vihari appeared comfortable handling New Zealand attack. With the deficit not particularly massive, India still have an outside chance should the duo click in unison and post numbers daunting enough for the hosts to chase in the final essay. In case either of them perishes early tomorrow morning, Rishabh Pant, the last recognized batsman, needs to bear the responsibility and yield a worthy contribution.
Essentially, India are praying for a miracle while New Zealand, firmly in the driving seat, are within touching distance of seizing the crucial World Test Championship points up for grabs. An uphill task awaits, and India will have to dig deep into their reserves if they stand any chance of pulling off a win.
Published 23 Feb 2020, 15:01 IST