Why three reviews?
Many, including Aaron Finch, have noticed why the sides have three reviews each now that neutral umpires are back for this Test. They are also ICC elite umpires. Doesn’t make much of a difference to me, but seems like it is a hot topic. So Nagraj Gollapudi has done some finding out with the ICC. The crux of the explanation is: These were the playing conditions for the last few series, and they don’t really change the playing conditions mid-tournament unless it is really exceptional circumstances. Like it was when Covid-19 forcing this change to increasing the number of reviews from two to three.
And, oh, welcome back to the middle session.
Lunch: New Zealand pull it back slightly
Score first: India 69 for 2 in 28 overs. Both openers gone after a 62-run stand, which tells you New Zealand have pulled things back. Cheteshwar Pujara is 0 off 24 (just waring up) and Virat Kohli has played one imperious cover-drive already. Kyle Jamieson and Neil Wagner are the wicket-takers. India have been not in control of 30 balls, which gives them a control percentage of 82.
Now to the story of the session. India will be slightly more pleased with this session than New Zealand after having being put in on a pitch that had been under covers for two days and under overcast skies. New Zealand are a great control bowling side. They have the best economy rate in this WTC cycle despite playing on the flat home tracks.
In this session, though, they went searching too much. Tim Southee and Trent Boult just didn’t get it right early on. Perhaps it is the pressure of expectation when your captain sticks the opposition in. Perhaps it was India’s batsmen refusing to provide them a stationery target. They kept moving down the pitch to cut out the swing. By the time Kane Williamson split the two, India had already scored 37 runs.
The change bowlers then tried to bowl that channel and dry up the runs, which is why Colin de Grandhomme was bowled before Wagner. De Grandhomme produced two plays and misses from Rohit Sharma, but also provided him short balls to drive off the back foot. New Zealand are fortunate they have managed to draw those two errors from Rohit and Shubhman Gill towards the end of the session.
Also the pitch hasn’t quite seamed as much as was expected in such circumstances. So expect New Zealand to bowl with much more discipline rather than looking for magic balls in the second session. India ahead, but they have work to do.
We’ve been expecting you, Mr Wagner
There was some debate during the Test series against England if Neil Wagner was superfluous in England where his methods of hustling batsmen with short-pitched bowling on flat pitches might not be called into play. Looking at Wagner’s contribution to New Zealand over the years, this was a ridiculous thought, but such is this game’s reliance on conditions that there might actually have been thought around it.
However, Wagner earned this selection by bowling proper seam and swing in the Test series against England. And he has vindicated himself – if vindication was needed, that is – with a wicket third ball into his spell even though he is the fifth bowler used.
This is classic, Zaheer Khan-level, even Wasim Akram-level skill. They just need to swing one ball early into an over, and then they play around with the batsman. Wagner swung the first ball back into Gill, and two balls later he bowled the same length, making him push at the ball, which held its line this time and took the edge. India 63 for 2 in 24.3 overs. Gill gone for 28 off 64.
Jamieson gets New Zealand on the board
The rare mistake from Rohit Sharma. He has been good at leaving balls outside off. The times he has played and missed it has been forced by pitching the ball on off or close to off. Finally, he does play at a wide ball, perhaps because Jamieson has caused uncertainty by going wide on the crease, and the outswing takes the edge for a lovely low catch at third slip by Tim Southee. India’s first 60-plus stand in England in more than 10 years ends. India 62 for 1 in 20.1 overs. Rohit Sharma gone for 34 off 68.
Back-foot drives, front-foot pulls and push-drives
India’s batting has been glorious so far in this session. The three shots that have stood out are Rohit Sharma’s back-foot drives, and Shubhman Gill’s pulls off the front foot and the defensive full-pace defensive push-drive for boundaries down the ground.
Three maidens to drinks
They have strung together three maiden overs, but India have now seen off both the new-ball bowlers. Not unsurprisingly Colin de Grandhomme has been given the ball ahead of Neil Wagner. As expected, New Zealand have pulled the length back after that start. Shiva Jayaraman has looked at the lengths. “Only one full ball in the last three overs, which were maidens. Every other balls was on length or just short of it. In the first 11 overs, there were 23 balls that weren’t on those lengths and were taken off for 30 runs.”
India 41 for 0 after 14 overs. This is a great start for them after being put it. Their control percentage is 79.
The 12th over of the innings is the first maiden bowled by New Zealand. It backs up the observation that they have not bowled enough in testing areas. Not enough stock balls strung together. The variation ball has come out too soon. There has been no set-up.
The batsmen haven’t allowed that to happen either. They have moved at the bowlers, and they have punished any error in length. India 41 for 0 after 12 overs.
Excellent start for India
Half an hour gone, and India are off to a brisk positive start. Anyone will take 29 for 0 in eight overs after being inserted in overcast conditions on a pitch that had stayed covered for two days.
Things to note:
1. India’s openers feel Trent Boult and Tim Southee don’t have the pace to keep them in the crease. They have often walked at the bowlers to play the ball before it has moved.
2. Boult and Southee hadn’t quite found their radar yet. There have been balls down the leg side, and also there have been ones easy to leave. Only one proper play and miss in eight over, and one outside edge that has gone along the ground for four.
3. Yet India’s control percentage is 75%, which means they have not been in control of 12 balls. This is about the time teams start to expect wickets.
4. The Dukes ball starts swinging properly only after half a dozen overs.
5. Is there something to be said of the pressure the bowlers are under when they are bowling in such conditions and are expected to deliver a sub-200 total?
Starting on a sombre note
India are wearing black armbands in tribute to the great runner Milkha Singh and his wife Nirmal Kaur, who died of post-Covid complications.
Milkha was one of the greatest sportspeople India has produced. At 91, he went for a run a couple of days before he tested positive. Run in peace, King Milkha
A few days ago, his wife Nirmal, former India captain at volleyball, died, too, of Covid. Just a reminder of times we live in before we embark on our celebration of Test cricket.
New Zealand stick India in
Kane Williamson has won the toss, and asked India to bat first. He has won 19 tosses in Test cricket, and chosen to field in 14 of them. Many of them are because New Zealand is a bowl-first country and the pitches there just keep getting better and better.
This decision, though, is down to the conditions created by the rain and the weather forecast. There is early moisture to be exploited, and the cool weather means the pitch won’t deteriorate as much as it usually does in Tests, which actually makes batting first the right choice most of the times. The last spot in their side goes to Colin de Grandhomme so they are going in with no spinner.
India, on the other hand, are sticking with two spinners. Virat Kohli says their spinners are of such high quality they can use a damp surface too. As R Ashwin showed at MCG late last year when he took important wickets in the first session. So they didn’t feel any need to change the XI they had named.
By the way, India, too, would have bowled first had they won the toss.
Here are the teams
India 1 Rohit Sharma, 2 Shubman Gill, 3 Cheteshwar Pujara, 4 Virat Kohli (capt.)*, 5 Ajinkya Rahane, 6 Rishabh Pant (wk), 7 Ravindra Jadeja, 8 R Ashwin, 9 Ishant Sharma, 10 Mohammed Shami, 11 Jasprit Bumrah
New Zealand 1 Tom Latham, 2 Devon Conway, 3 Kane Williamson (capt.), 4 Ross Taylor, 5 Henry Nicholls, 6 BJ Watling (wk), 7 Colin de Grandhomme, 8 Kyle Jamieson, 9 Tim Southee, 10 Neil Wagner, 11 Trent Boult
‘Pleasurable for bowlers’
The pitch report is in. Simon Doull and Sunil Gavaskar see the grass and call it a “pleasurable” surface for the bowlers. There is grass, there are the overheads. And this Test might not get all five days in. So a real case for bowl first.
India’s coach Ravi Shastri has confirmed India won’t change the XI they had named. Had it rained even today, they might have thought along those lines, but there is enough depth, skill and variation, he says, for a proper Test match.
It is on time
The outfield is ready and fit. Toss in 25 minutes. The pitch looks a lot less green than it did, but then again there will be moisture retained and overcast conditions. I don’t know, I would just like to lose the toss if you ask me.
There will be cricket
Hey, you, yes you over at the weather websites and port terminals webcams. You can stop looking there for a while. The weather is dry till late afternoon, and we will get cricket. Will it be on time? We will let you know soon
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo