Much like the flightless birds that the country is renowned for, even time, with 15-odd hours of daylight in early February, just refuses to fly here in New Zealand. At the scenic Cobham Oval in small-town Whangarei, it was almost crawling on Sunday afternoon.
Of the 500-odd spectators who had turned up for the Indians vs New Zealand XI practice match, some immersed themselves in a book, catching the action between pages. A few others decided to catch a wink, spreading lazily on the embankments under the shade of umbrellas.
Had they entirely missed a passage of play just before lunch, and relied on the scoreboard to update themselves after tuning back in, they might have thought a ghost had bowled three overs while they were not looking.
For, even as spells by Zaheer Khan, Umesh Yadav, Ravichandran Ashwin and Ishant Sharma were duly attributed, a 3-2-7-0 was put against nobody’s name.
You couldn’t completely blame the scorers for that. Ishwar Pandey, after all, has been anonymous on the tour, having played hardly a bigger role than that of a travelling net bowler. The medium pacer wasn’t even given a chance in the final and inconsequential ODI against New Zealand in Wellington. And here too, in this two-day practice game, he waited till the 33rd over to have a go at the Kiwi batsmen.
However, the bowler, who has been described as “an unfinished product” by India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, immediately hit his straps, as he elicited encouraging movement off the pitch to beat the outside edge of the batsmen.
In his fifth over, Pandey’s one such delivery drew Henry Walsh forward, kissed his bat and settled into the hands of Rohit Sharma at second slip. By that time, the word had spread around about the young Indian bowler, and it soon reached the scorers’ ears. ‘Ishwar Pandey’ flashed in front his numbers. Belatedly, the bowler got the due recognition.
Pandey went on to account for Tim Seifert and Ili Tugaga to finish with figures of 14-5-42-3, the best by an Indian bowler on the day. It’s unlikely that Dhoni, who was not around to see Pandey bowl as he stayed back in Auckland, will give the light-eyed youngster a chance in the first Test. However, the MP pacer, who idolises Glenn McGrath, had made a big statement with Sunday’s effort: that he is not ready to linger about on the fringes for too long.
“I am just very happy that I got a chance to bowl here. It means that I will get a chance to represent India soon enough and play for the country, which is my dream,” Pandey said after the close of play.
“I tried to bowl like I have done in this domestic season. Whenever I bowl, my only focus is to bowl a consistent line and length, and not focus on taking wickets. It has worked for me in the domestic arena, and similarly I want to do well here, not just for myself but also for the team,” said the bowler who was the highest wicket taker in the Ranji Trophy last year.
Pandey wasn’t the only cricketer on Sunday to have grabbed the chance with both hands. New Zealand Robert O’Donnell, the under-19 captain who made the NZ XI after the twin pullouts of Peter Fulton and Hamish Rutherford, struck a fluent 80 to burnish his credentials ahead of the Junior World Cup.
O’Donnell pulled, cut and drove the Indian bowlers with authority and looked all set to score a century when he edged Ishant Sharma to the third slip. His knock came in 124 balls and included 13 handsome fours.
“It’s a very disappointing way to finish off,” O’Donnell said. “It would have been amazing to have a hundred against an Indian Test team, everybody sort of dreams about that stuff. Unfortunately not today but hopefully, I will get another chance in the future someday.”
After O’Donnell got out, the Indians ran through the inexperienced NZ XI batting, leaving them at 262/9 when the declaration came. India were 41/0, with Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan batting on 19 and 16, respectively.
Earlier, Rohit Sharma stood in for MS Dhoni and promptly lost the toss. India left out Ravindra Jadeja, Mohammad Shami and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, while Virat Kohli too preferred to rest in Auckland alongside Dhoni.
Sharp and fit
Zaheer opened the attack after India were told to field. He looked sharp in the first spell but his performance tapered off as the day wore on. Ishant, on the other hand, took time to settle in. He bowled 10 no balls, but was asking all the right question of the New Zealand XI batsmen after lunch.
Yadav was fast as usual, while Ashwin’s top-spinners were right off the top drawer. He, in fact, got India the breakthrough wicket of George Worker after New Zealand had added 81 runs for the first wicket. He was the best Indian bowler on show in the morning session. Then Pandey decided to make a name for himself.
Brief scores: NZ XI 262/9 dec (R O’Donnell 80, J Hickey 45, R Badenhorst 34*; I Pandey 3/42, I Sharma 2/58) vs Indians 41/0 (M Vijay 19*, S Dhawan 16*)