By Chetan Narula
Auckland, Feb 7: India were pushed to the backfoot after yet another familiar top-order batting collapse as hosts New Zealand took firm control of the the first cricket Test riding on skipper Brendon McCullum’s brilliant double century here today.
McCullum’s sparkling 224 guided New Zealand to a commanding 503 in their first innings despite a six-wicket haul by pacer Ishant Sharma.
India were struggling at 130 for four, when bad light halted second day’s play with Rohit Sharma standing tall amidst ruins batting on 67 in company of Ajinkya Rahane (23 batting). India are 373 runs behind New Zealand’s first innings total and still require another 174 runs to avoid follow-on.
India’s top-order again performed miserably as they were reduced to 10 for three at one stage with Shikhar Dhawan (0), Cheteshwar Pujara (1) and Virat Kohli (4) back in the pavilion due to some inspired seam bowling by Trent Boult and Tim Southee.
Murali Vijay (26) did all the hardwork before Neil Wagner dismissed him with a beauty to reduce India to 51 for four.
Rohit-Rahane did some repair work with an unbroken 79-run stand for the fifth wicket.
Rohit especially looked in silken touch as he hit eight fours and a six off Kane Williamson in the 102 balls that he faced so far.
Coming in at 10 for three, Rohit was initially a bit shaky as he scored only one off 24 deliveries before getting the first boundary off the 25th one.
He had a partnership of 41 runs with Vijay, who saw left-arm seamer Neil Wagner fire one in from wide off the crease and the delivery straightened after pitching to beat the batsman clipping the bails in the process.
Once Vijay was gone, Rohit decided to counter-attack as he hit three boundaries off a Wagner over. A pull, a punch through covers followed by a deliberate glide over slips.
In another Wagner over, Rohit hit a perfect cover drive while he pushed Southee for a boundary through mid-off effortlessly. Out of his eight boundaries, six were hit off Wagner.
Dhawan’s poor overseas technique was exposed once again as he was squared up off the very second delivery of the Indian innings by left-armer Boult as he closed his bat face and the leading edge was taken by Kane Williamson at gully.
Pujara played far away from his body to a delivery that was shaping away while Kohli got a faint tickle on the glove to a rising deliery that also bounced off his helmet towards Peter Fulton at second slip.
India were tottering at 10 for three in 5.4 overs when Rohit and Vijay jouined forces, For the next hour, they played without taking much risk.
Earlier, skipper McCullum’s sparkling double century helped New Zealand reach a commanding first innings score of 503 despite a six-wicket haul by speedster Ishant Sharma.
McCullum played a captain’s knock scoring 224 off 307 balls with the help of 29 boundaries and five huge sixes as New Zealand were finally all-out in 121.4 overs. Ishant on the otherhand got his fourth five-for in Test cricket ending with figures of six for 134 in 33.4 overs.
The New Zealand captain was the last man out when Ravindra Jadeja did brilliant balancing act to catch at the ropes.
This was McCullum’s second double century in Tests and also became the fourth Black Caps player to achieve the feat of scoring two or more double hundred in Tests. He joined Stephen Fleming, Glenn Turner and Matthew Sinclair in the list.
Out of the six wickets that fell today with an addituon of 174 runs, Ishant took four while Jadeja (1/120) and Mohammed Shami (1/96) shared the remaining two. Zaheer Khan (2/132) didn’t add to his overnight tally.
Starting from the overnight score of 329/4, it didn’t take much time for McCullum and Corey Anderson (77) to get going as their fifth wicket stand yielded 133 runs.
Despite overcast conditions again, they were on top of the Indian bowling from the very outset, looking to score as many runs as possible. In the third over of the day, the skipper brought up his 150-run mark, while in the next one, Anderson reached his half-century, off 88 balls, with seven fours and one six.
Indeed the left-handed batsman looked more ominous scoring 26 runs off the first 21 balls he faced in the day. He was especially hard on Ishant, clobbering him for three fours in the 96th over, quickly moving on into the sixties.
Perhaps that led to the next bit of action as Ishant changed his line in the 100th over, coming around the wicket, and was able to get a leg before decision in his favour.
Anderson was finally dismissed for 77 runs by Ishant even the ball seemed to float above the leg-stump. Anderson faced 109 deliveries hitting 13 fours and a six in the process.
This gave impetus to Ishant who once again found his rhythm and got Bradley-John Watling (1), caught at third slip by Shikhar Dhawan, shortly before the 400-run mark came up in the 104th over.
In the meantime, McCullum reached the milestone of the highest individual score in a Test innings for New Zealand at Eden Park, beating Ian Smith’s 173 also scored against India, way back in 1990.
Later he surpassed his highest score at home, 185 against Bangladesh in 2010.
At the other end, Tim Southee played some attacking strokes to garner quick runs and push India further on the backfoot.
With his partner approaching a double ton, he threw his bat around to smack three fours and two sixes, scoring 28 runs off only 21 balls, before he was bowled by Shami in the 109th over.
On day one, India had won the toss and reduced New Zealand to 30/3, before a 221-run fourth-wicket stand between McCullum and Kane Williamson (113) put them back in control of proceedings. PTI