At St Peter’s School in Christchurch, Matt Henry was spoilt for choice; sport-wise. Cricket was his first love, but he shone in rugby as well. Cricket, however, had to take precedence. They were a group of four – Henry, Tom Latham, Henry Nicholls and Corey Anderson. All have gone on to play for New Zealand. The mateship taught them the importance of team work. The Blackcaps have learnt to thrive in it when Brendon McCullum took charge as captain. Kane Williamson is carrying forward the good work as McCullum’s successor.
A bug ruled out Williamson for the second Test. A ligament strain had ruled out Tim Southee, the team’s most experienced seamer, before a ball was bowled in the series. On an Eden pitch with substantial lateral movement early on, Southee could have been lethal. But collectively, New Zealand bowling more than made up for his absence with a disciplined performance.
Henry led the charge with 3/35. The 24-year-old was not in the original squad and received the call-up as Southee’s replacement. Called into action, he stood up to be counted. Spare a thought for Jeetan Patel, the 36-year-old off-spinner who came in as a like-for-like replacement for the injured Mark Craig. Patel last played for his national team three years ago. He was a star performer for Warwickshire in county cricket this season alright, but international cricket is a different ball game.
Patel bowled beautifully and troubled every Indian batsman.
New Zealand bowled 86 overs on the first day and conceded only 37 fours and a six. They kept India’s run rate below three throughout. In fact, the visitors conceded only 57 runs in 27 overs in the first session, taking three wickets. They stuck to a definite plan – bowling in the right areas and playing on the opposition batters’ patience.
To Shikhar Dhawan, the idea was to make him play a little away from the body. To a more technically composed Murali Vijay, the Kiwi fast bowlers kept on hitting the corridor. For Kohli, it was about denying him the opportunity to rotate the strike and then induce him with a fairly loose delivery.
India’s Test captain likes to dominate bowling. He refused to eschew his ego, falling into the trap in the process, both in Kanpur and Kolkata. Kohli’s genius will surely respond with a counter plan, but for the moment it’s 2-0 in favour of the rival bowlers.
On a pitch like this, it’s easy to get carried away. But New Zealand kept things simple. They stuck to the basics and were rewarded. Even Ajinkya Rahane, who scored 77, praised New Zealand’s bowling discipline. “They bowled the right lines and didn’t give us easy runs. I felt in between in the second session, we were looking to score runs but they bowled really tight lines and lengths. Credit goes to them, because it’s hard for the bowlers here. It’s not easy, it’s hot and humid,” he said.
Keeping things in check in the second session proved to be crucial for New Zealand. The pitch was easing out and Cheteshwar Pujara and Rahane had been forging a partnership. But the bowlers didn’t lose patience. They went wicketless in that session but gave away only 79 runs in 31 overs between lunch and tea.
Then, in the final session, they took four wickets for 103 runs in 28 overs to finish the day stronger. “It was important to make them play (in the first session). It wasn’t really rocket science. It’s the same thing at home, new ball offering a bit of bounce you’ve got to make sure if you miss you miss full so we are getting them driving and hitting in the areas we want them to hit.
“They (India) batted really well and were really composed throughout the whole middle period (of the day). We knew if we could hold the runs the wickets would come eventually. It was really hot and tested us a lot mentally and physically. A lot of the guys we knew we weren’t far off and if we put a couple of wickets on that scoreboard it would put on an interesting situation for the new ball (later on),” Henry said.