Richardson and Vincent torment India
Close New Zealand 247 for 1 (Richardson 102*, Vincent 106)
Mark Richardson: standing tall, cramps and all
Mark Richardson and Lou Vincent ensured that Rahul Dravid's first day as Test captain was an utterly forgettable one. They piled on 231 runs for the first wicket, apart from the misery for the Indians, and took New Zealand to a commanding position at the end of the first day. India's bowlers worked hard on a wicket that kept them interested, but Richardson and Vincent were unimpeachable. From 247 for 1, New Zealand would be hard pressed to lose.
The tale of two centuries was a study in contrast. Vincent was the belligerent aggressor, the often scraggly batsman who gave the bowlers a whiff of hope without relenting. Despite the two chances he gave, Richardson was composed to begin with, and blunted the bowling with patience that would have done a trappist monk proud. Vincent planted his foot down the wicket, smiled like a pirate and swept Kumble to the square-leg fence to reach his hundred. Richardson, hobbling around with acute cramps flashed Anil Kumble between the wicketkeeper and first slip to notch up his century.
You can forgive Dravid for not appreciating the difference in styles of the two batsmen. The day began quite brightly after he lost the toss and was sent out to field. Zaheer Khan and L Balaji relished bowling on a wicket that aided seam bowling. There was good bounce and carry to the keeper and the ball moved laterally both in the air and off the wicket. Balaji in particular looked a different proposition altogether from the bowler he was at Ahmedabad. His propensity for slipping deliveries down the leg side was shelved and the ball moved both ways, beating the bat repeatedly.
The ball doing a bit on the first morning of a Test match is nothing to get excited about though - unless you're coming from a Test match at Ahmedabad, of course. Vincent and Richardson, used to conditions where patience is a necessity rather than a virtue, saw off the new ball with quiet confidence. Balaji will feel he had Vincent trapped plumb in front in just the second over of the day and most people, other than David Shepherd, would agree with him. Dravid will feel he has a lot to make up for when he bats, for he dropped a relatively straightforward offering from Richardson at slip in the third over. At the end of the day though, the only feeling that translated into performance was the relief Richardson and Vincent would have felt at having survived the first hour.
From there on, it was a numbing experience of blunting the bowling. Richardson used his high left-elbow and soft hands, Vincent the sweep and quick shuffle of the feet. Kumble toiled manfully, sending down over after over of brisk spin. His control was excellent and the solitary wicket of Vincent was a poor return considering his 28 overs went for a mere 57 runs.
It is always dangerous to sweep a spinner who sends the ball down as fast and flat as Kumble does. When you are attempting the shot to a ball on the stumps, off balance, it is lethal, as Vincent (106, 227 balls, 14 fours, 2 sixes) discovered. By then, though, India had gone wicket-less for more than two and a half sessions. The fall of Vincent's wicket (231 for 1) ended New Zealand's best Test partnership against India. The 231 that Vincent and Richardson added bettered the 222 that Bert Sutcliffe and John Reid put on for the third wicket at Delhi in 1955-56.
Soon after, Richardson provided a moment of hilarity when he overbalanced and fell in the process of pulling a delivery. Flat on the wicket and in some pain with cramps, Richardson grimaced, but waved off the stretcher that the authorities at the Punjab Cricket Association so optimistically sent out. This man was going nowhere. Even a swarm of bees flying low into the ground did not distract him. When stumps were drawn, Richardson was unbeaten on 102 (284 balls, 14 fours) and will be back to fight another day.
Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo in India.