It was not an easy wicket to bat on. The ball was nipping around, the batsmen were looking circumspect and India were trailing by 183 runs in the second innings. They needed to bat out of their skins to make a contest out of the match.
The opening partnership lasted just 46 balls. In the eighth over, the young Prithvi Shaw succumbed to Trent Boult. The ball was angled in, Shaw tried to fend it off, and the man at square leg completed the catch.
India were one down, and in came the resilient Cheteshwar Pujara. Pujara blocked and blocked, playing for time. He is well-known for his ability to play long innings, and that's exactly what he tried to do.
There was pressure on the batsmen, and the Kiwi bowlers had their tails up. But the pair of Pujara and Agarwal survived for 24.2 overs. Pujara consumed 81 balls to score his 11 runs, and his innings only ended when Boult produced an absolute peach of a delivery.
Boult came around the wicket, went wide of the crease and bowled a stunning in-swinger. Pujara left the ball, but the cherry came in sharply and took out his off stump.
That brought the master batsman Virat Kohli to the crease. A lot hinged on how he fared this time around. Kohli loves the pressure and loves having his back against the wall, so many expected him to thrive in this situation and get India out of trouble.
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Initially, the Kiwi bowlers pitched the ball up to Kohli. The ball was still nipping around, and they were hoping to induce him into a false stroke. Kohli left a lot of deliveries to the keeper. He was determined not to commit himself like how he did in the first innings.
But when the ball was there to be hit, Kohli obliged. He played the cover drive twice, and both times the ball sped to the boundary.
The Indian skipper lost his partner Mayank Agarwal against the run of play. The opener was looking comfortable, and had just got past his half century, but he suddenly lost his concentration.
The ball was pitched outside leg stump, Agarwal went for the flick, the ball took the faintest of edges and BJ Watling completed the catch.
At the other end Kohli was slowly settling in, which is always a dangerous sign for the opposition. But then New Zealand went to the other tried-and-tested tactic; the bowlers came around the wicket, and started pitching the ball short to Kohli.
There was a short leg, a leg slip, a mid-wicket and a deep square leg to put Kohli under further pressure. The maestro was forced to block out a lot of deliveries.
Kyle Jamieson was putting his tall frame to excellent use. There was bounce on the surface and the Kiwi debutant was taking full toll of it. Kohli got into double digits, but more importantly it looked as if another fight was on the cards.
Remember, Kohli had been going through a lean patch by his incredible standards. He had gone 20 international innings without a hundred and had aggregated just 75 runs in the ODI series, before being dismissed for just two runs in the first innings of this Test.
Kohli and Rahane were still at the crease though, and it seemed like we were poised for an exciting last hour of play on the third day. But then Boult came back in, and everything changed.
The left-arm seamer was bowling around the wicket, going wide of the crease and getting the ball to come back in sharply. The first ball was pitched up, Kohli went for the drive and it went to the fielder at cover.
The next ball proved to be Kohli's undoing. The Kiwis were playing with Kohli’s patience, and he succumbed. Boult went for the short delivery, Kohli went for the hook, the ball took the edge and settled into the gloves of Watling.
The skipper was dismissed for 19, and the Kiwis were over the moon.
The way the Kiwis set Kohli up was textbook stuff. Pitch the ball up to him early on, and once he settles in, bang it in short to induce the false stroke. As the Indian skipper departed, India were left reeling, with just six wickets left and still trailing the Kiwi total by a significant amount.
Kohli’s lean patch in New Zealand continues. The Kiwis have definitely done their homework.Published 23 Feb 2020, 11:48 IST