It was a magic ball straight out of Middle Earth. And it must have left Martin Guptill with a longing for home.
What had transpired was this: Mumbai’s Aditya Tare won the toss and put New Zealand on a juicy track. Guptill and Tom Latham walked out to bat. After taking his guard, Guptill prepared to take on Balwinder Singh Sandhu. The Mumbai medium pacer, whose genteel speed reminds you of the the dibbly dobbly bowlers of the 90s New Zealand, sent down a peach of a first ball that shaped away before seaming back in after pitching on a length. It drew Guptill forward and beat him through his bat and pad. This was Feroz Shah Kotla, but it might have been the first ball of the first day of a game at Basin Reserve. The Blackcaps must have instantly felt at home.
But the thing is, for a visiting team on a cricket tour, the objective is not to seek your comfort zone, but to survive in foreign conditions. The first ball that New Zealand’s openers will face in Kanpur will perhaps not swing as prodigiously. There is a faint chance it might not even be bowled by a pacer. Instead, it might pitch at a length and turn sharply —something Mumbai’s modest spinners couldn’t manage the whole day on a true, first-day wicket that unsurprisingly offered little turn. In order to learn to play quality spin on turning tracks, the visitors, therefore, will have to wait till the first Test.
All this is not to say it was an unproductive session for New Zealand. Pitch, after all, is but one part of the umbrella term “playing conditions”. One needs to adapt to the weather, too. New Zealand batted in hot and humid conditions as they made 324/7 in 75 overs (two of the batsmen opting to retire) before declaring.
“That morning session was very hot. It was probably one of the hottest I have batted in. The amount of sweat and the amount of time you change your gloves. We have been here a few days and probably have not adapted to the heat quite yet, but I am sure a day out in the park tomorrow will help us acclimatise fully,” New Zealand opener Tom Latham, who retired after making 55, said after the day’s play.
Pattern to playing the spinners
Aside of Guptill, whom Sandhu dismissed after drawing the opener forward to play a drive and inducing the outside edge, almost all New Zealand batsman got some decent practice. There weren’t many experienced tweakers in the Mumbai line-up, except the left-arm spinner Vishal Dabholkar, and all of them came in for some punishment. There was a pattern to how the Kiwis played the spinners. They would defend a couple of balls before jumping out and lofting the ball; defend another ball or two before rocking back and playing the cut shot; and defend, defend and bring out the sweep.
“The way guys adapted to conditions was important, even though the ball was not turning that big. So using the feet and coming down the wicket to hit over the top was a good method. Most of the guys spent enough time in the middle, which was good for our preparation,” Latham added.
“All we can do is play with whatever surface we have got. I think the time guys spent in the middle was crucial for everyone to adapt to the conditions and familiarise themselves with their gameplans. Obviously it might turn a little bit more (in the first Test) but we have got what we have got out there. We are happy with that.”
Of the three wickets that fell to the spinners, Ross Taylor and Henry Nicholls were trapped in front by left-arm spinner Vijay Gohil and offie Siddhesh Lad, respectively. Mitchell Santner was caught at long off trying to hit Dabholkar out of the park.
While Latham extolled the virtues of staying on the crease, the way New Zealand played betrayed a hint they might adopt a counterattacking strategy against the Indian spinners. “If you spend time at the crease, you will get the runs (here in India). I think it is more about guys applying their gameplan and getting used to the conditions. Certainly we got what we needed here and that puts up in good stead ahead of the first Test,” Latham said.
New Zealand declared towards the end of day’s play and Neil Wagner surprised Jay Bista with a short one that hurried on him and took an edge. Armaan Jaffer unfurled a gorgeous six off Santner as he returned unbeaten on 24, giving a small crowd who had come to see Rohit Sharma bat something to cheer. They will come again tomorrow to watch the Indian batsman. And, on a second day track which is likely to ease up, Jaffer will have a golden opportunity to enhance his reputation.