Roles reversed as NZ rattle India with spin

23 September 2016

Santner impresses on day one of what's shaping to be a fascinating battle between Kiwi spinners and India batsmen

A scruffy dry pitch devoid of grass, stifling humid conditions and one team packed with spinners who dominate the game from the start is par for the course in a Test match in India.

The script appeared made-to-order when the first Test opened at Kanpur's Green Park on Thursday – except this time the roles were reversed as New Zealand gave the hosts a dose of their own medicine.

India, playing their landmark 500th Test in front of an august gathering that included greats like Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev, closed an intriguing day's play at 9-291.

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With the wicket almost certain to deteriorate as the game progresses, the total may still prove decisive since New Zealand have to bat last after losing the toss.

But the tourists earned plaudits for throwing conventional wisdom to the wind in their bid to improve a dismal record in India where they have won just two Tests, the last in 1988.

The Black Caps fielded three spinners, Mitchell Santner, Ish Sodhi and Mark Craig, even as India preferred to leave out leg-spinner Amit Mishra to accommodate a sixth batsman in Rohit Sharma.

The three spinners shared 59 of the 90 overs, taking five of the nine wickets, with left-armer Santner the stand-out bowler with 3-77 before seamer Trent Boult grabbed the last three wickets with the second new ball.

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New Zealand captain Kane Williamson knew where his bowling strength lay. He brought Santner on in the ninth over, Craig came on in the 14th and Sodhi entered proceedings shortly before lunch, in the 25th over.

Santner struck in his second over, having opener Lokesh Rahul caught behind, before taking a return catch to dismiss Cheteshwar Pujara (62) and end a 112-run stand for the second wicket with Murali Vijay (65).

India, who were coasting at 1-154 midway through the second session, lost their next four wickets for 55 runs to slide to 5-209 before losing four more with the second new ball after tea.

When the second new ball was taken as soon as it was due after 80 overs, Santner was given first use of the red cherry and induced Rohit (35) to hole out to Sodhi at mid-on.

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"We tried bowling in good areas to build pressure, but it didn't spin early on," said Santner, 24, who had taken 15 wickets in seven previous Tests.

"Nine for 291 is not too bad, is it? It was a hard surface to score off."

Santner said a lot of cricket remained to be played in the Test and it was too early to think of what might happen.

"First things first, we need to get this last wicket early, bat well and build partnerships," he said. "I don't think we are looking too far ahead. We must get through day by day and go from there."

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Former New Zealand captain Stephen Fleming praised Williamson's captaincy, saying he rotated the bowlers shrewdly under unforgiving conditions.

"It is unusual for a New Zealand captain to have three spinners and I don't think Kane has experienced such a thing before, but he led admirably," said Fleming.

"I think New Zealand will be pretty satisfied with the start because they showed a lot of character and determination out there. But the pitch can't be judged before both sides have batted on it."

Vijay denied India had thrown away the advantage and insisted a good total had already been posted.

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"We are in a good position, we have put runs on the board," the right-handed opener said. "What we have got to do now is go out there and put pressure on the batsmen.

"It's a good total to play around with. The wicket is on the slower side and it will be difficult to score runs.

"Given the quality of our spinners (Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja), it should be a good day for us, hopefully."

Meg Lanning Steve Smith

About the Writer


Kuldip Lal is a New Delhi-based journalist who retired last year as South Asia's sports correspondent for Agence France-Presse (AFP). He also wrote for the Kolkata-based Telegraph newspaper and Sportsworld magazine.