India v New Zealand, 1st Test, Ahmedabad, 3rd day November 6, 2010

We showed strength of character - McCullum

ESPNcricinfo staff

The frustration on Brendon McCullum's face as he trudged off said it all. A wicketkeeper himself, he had known the moment MS Dhoni whipped off the bails that his innings was over, and confirmation from the third umpire merely intensified the disgust. He and Ross Taylor had defied India for 215 balls, adding 104 along the way, but with Taylor having given India a belated Diwali gift, his dismissal came at the worst possible time.

Jesse Ryder hadn't played a Test since Sri Lanka in August 2009, and was on just two when McCullum headed for the pavilion. Kane Williamson, who emerged from it, was in his first game. "You work so hard to get into that situation," McCullum said. "You feel you have a decent read on what the bowlers are doing. I was disappointed to leave two new guys at the crease so close to Ross's dismissal."

After a belligerent start, McCullum was more than happy to play the waiting game, though he seldom missed an opportunity to crash the loose ball past the infield. "I'm going through a challenge at the moment, of becoming a Test opening batsman," he said. "It's quite different from my previous 50 Tests. I was happy to get a score and bat some overs, take some shine off the ball. But I was also bitterly disappointed to get out after doing the hard work."

He needn't have worried though. By the time Ryder and Williamson were parted in the final over of the day, they had added 194 from 412 balls and kept India at bay for nearly five hours. Having fought back with the ball on day two, the batting riposte was straight out of fantasy land. "I sat back and watched some of the best batting we've seen from a New Zealand No.5 and No.6 for a long long time," McCullum said. "I don't think anyone could have expected those guys to play as well as they did. We have high expectations of each member of this team, but Jesse hasn't played a Test for a while and Kane was playing his first.

"To put on that size partnership against quality bowlers has put us in a position where we're now back in the Test."

New Zealand made 262 runs in the day at nearly three an over, losing just three wickets, but with Ryder suffering from tightness in his calf and Hamish Bennett still doubtful with a groin strain, they might have to bat at least two more sessions to make sure the game is safe. "There's still two days to go in the Test and we've all seen that a lot can happen in Indian conditions in that time on a wearing wicket," McCullum said. "We have five wickets tomorrow and we have to bat as deep as we can.

"We need to try and get as close as we can to the Indian total, hopefully go past it. Then, control what we can with the ball. It's not going to be easy. Our bowling attack is a little bit light with Hamish down and Jesse with a bit of a tight calf as well. But today, we've fought our way back and shown strength of character.

"We've walked away incredibly satisfied with our day's work. We're under no illusions about how hard it's going to be, but it's a step in the right direction for us as a team. From a spectator's point of view as well, it was enthralling cricket right the way through."

New Zealand were helped along by two big slices of luck. Ryder was 11 when a flashed drive off Sreesanth deflected off Rahul Dravid's palms instead of sticking to them, and there were incredulous stares from Zaheer Khan and the fielders when Kumar Dharmasena was unmoved after Williamson appeared to nick one behind when he had 56.

But those aside, the way the two ground India down was a lesson to any touring side. Williamson defended and attacked with equal aplomb off the back foot, while Ryder slammed one huge six off Harbhajan Singh as if to show that restricted movement wasn't going to cramp his style.

He also continued the long tradition of left-handers tormenting India. Andy Flower, now England's coach, averaged 94 against India, while another big man with booming strokes, Clive Lloyd, scored seven of his 19 centuries against them. Ryder, who made a century at Hamilton and a double in Napier when India toured in 2009, might feel sufficiently confident to hum that old football taunt the next time he walks to the crease: "Can we play you every week?"

The bigger story though was Williamson and the composure he showed even when kept quiet for long periods. "Guys don't tend to develop in New Zealand till they're much older," said McCullum of the 20-year-old. "He's an incredible talent. We saw that during his one-day hundred in Bangladesh a couple of weeks ago, and we've seen it here against a very good Indian bowling line-up. His ability to negotiate tough periods and fight his way through. He has a real calm presence at the crease and I hope he goes on tomorrow to what would be a memorable Test hundred."

There was qualified praise too from Sreesanth, India's best bowler on a day when opportunities were as rare as signs of life on this Motera pitch. "They batted well," he said. "We can't take anything away from them, even if it was a flat track. Williamson looked solid and had a good defence."

After the embarrassing one-day defeat in Bangladesh, the last two days at Motera have provided New Zealand cricket with a tremendous fillip. "It's incredibly significant," McCullum said. "We've gone through a tough time in the one-day game. It can have a flow-on effect to other forms. But today, we've bounced back. We saw it yesterday with the ball too. It's nice to tick off some improvements. There are some characteristics we want to be known for as a team. That's fighting like we have done today, and showing the talent that many of us batsmen do have."

One of them, Williamson, has the chance to become only the second New Zealander to score a century against India on debut. Bruce Taylor, who did it in 1965, was a pace-bowling allrounder who pummelled 105 in just 158 minutes after coming in at No.8. Good as that effort was, it certainly didn't come against a side rated the best in the world.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Bang_La on November 7, 2010, 5:02 GMT

    @Anubhav Agrawal, I am a Bangladeshi but not a fascistic patriot. You may agree that no country wants to be whitewashed, so NZ did not have any motivation in BD series could not be true. NZ is batting in almost same dead pitches they played in Bangladesh. So why NZ players are more comfortable? its the bowling of course and its test where batsmen more breathing space. Take my word, NZ will beat India in OD series, trust me.

  • mike5181 on November 7, 2010, 0:38 GMT

    Good signs for NZ the young players are stepping up and he batting line up finally looks strong apart from 1 and 3. I think Guptill will likely play in the next test replacing Watling. 1.Macintosh 2.McCullum 3.Guptill 4.Taylor 5.Ryder 6.Williamson 7.Vettori. This is a good line up bar Macintosh especially 4 to 6 Taylor, Ryder, Williamson are all capable of averaging 45+ in their careers. I think India need to be patient and just dig away like NZ did on the second day. Game looks like a draw but you never know.

  • dummy4fb on November 6, 2010, 21:56 GMT

    McCullum speaks about strength of the character and we should say it was a sheer bad day for the Indian bowlers. They lacked penetration and didnot bowl to make the batsmen to dance to their tunes. This is the moment for the Indians to plan seriously on the pitch.

  • dummy4fb on November 6, 2010, 21:52 GMT

    NZ played great cricket.So the reason why NZ played so bad in Bangladesh seems that either India's attack is more dismal than Bangladesh or NZ did not have any inspiration to win in Bangladesh. India's bowling attack is extremely poor as ZAK seems to be fighting alone.We need two good fast bowlers and two spinners to win world cup and retain our test ranking. Buckle up India.................

  • Raj7sm on November 6, 2010, 21:47 GMT

    India does not deserve to be the No 1 side without a great bowler in their side. When WI & Aus were No 1 they many bowlers with 25- average.

    All the bowlers in this side average 31+.

  • Bang_La on November 6, 2010, 19:48 GMT

    Indian fans, who declared that it would be a cakewalk against NZ, are now licking their spit :) This indian arrogance is what most annoying for the cricket world. A team, which doesnt have five quality players but only blown up by media and product ads, should not style themselves superior. It would be wise for BCCI to now stopping counting money and find some players who can play cricket :) In this series, the fun will start in ODI games when NZ fast bowlers would still find pace and bounce. We are waiting :)

  • sarhaden on November 6, 2010, 19:18 GMT

    Shoeb from India..........I am the fan of NZ cricket team.They dont have big names like Sachin,Dravid,Laxman,Sehwag but have the players like Ryder & Williamson who shows the character & strength,they are the heroes on the pitch.Go NZ,India is no. 1 ranked team but you are palying well against them and of course with great spirit.Hats off for you NZ.

  • SnowSnake on November 6, 2010, 18:31 GMT

    Terrific day for NZ especially given that they are playing since 2nd day. India are on back foot now. Dravid sure will not deliver on 4th-5th day. This will be a testing time for India and Dhoni. The only hope for India now is for a draw.

  • dummy4fb on November 6, 2010, 18:31 GMT

    Dhoni needs to suck it up and accept the UDRS. 3 decisions(1 of them a clean catch) did not go our way and the guy is close to a century now. Honestly UDRS cannot be more worse than this.

  • No featured comments at the moment.