Lack of execution dooms NZ
There were just three moments where New Zealand stayed with India today: Daniel Vettori's removal of Virender Sehwag, Andy McKay's short, but probing, spell to Gautam Gambhir and Tim Southee's final spell against Sachin Tendulkar. In between these acts, though, they waxed and waned as you would expect them to do on a flat track, especially with an attack that isn't very potent.
Yesterday evening Daniel Vettori left us with a note of defiance. Today, though, they couldn't hide from yesterday's mistakes. The pitch was flat, India oozed intent, and long before the evening, the game had begun to sprint away from New Zealand.
You could sense they had plans. You could see that they couldn't always execute them. They sparkled in little phases of inspiration. McKay v Gambhir was one such contest. Gambhir's fifty in the second Test was his first in ten months, and McKay reminded him of his barren patch with his probing line around the off stump. Gambhir stabbed at a couple, wasn't in full control of a few steers, and was hesitant to lean fully forward for some of his off drives. That dab outside off has been his downfall in the recent times, and McKay tried to catch an edge or trap him with one that darted in with the angle.
His first delivery in Test cricket seamed in to hit Gambhir, who had shouldered arms, high on the pad. A short while later a good lbw shout was turned down when Gambhir was on 26. Soon, Gambhir caressed McKay to the cover boundary and lunch arrived at the end of that over. The fight evaporated after the break when Martin fed Gambhir with half-volleys. It was the pattern of the day: as soon as someone tried to stir up a contest, some other bowler killed it.
Southee said as much at the end of the day. "We had our plans right, but we needed to execute it better right from the start." He was the guilty too, allowing Gambhir to settle down at the start with poor deliveries on his legs, which were put away to the boundary without much fuss. He improved in his second spell in the evening, when he pinged Tendulkar's body a couple of times with bouncers. It didn't appear that Tendulkar's wicket could be claimed through such a tactic on this docile pitch, but it was worth a try.
"You can't be predictable," Southee said. "You just have to mix it up. I just tried to bowl wicket to wicket. I had a better rhythm in that second spell and it just sort of went from there."
Vettori was another one who could find his rhythm only in patches. He is a better limited-overs bowler than a Test operator. He has a good arm-ball, varies his pace, trajectory, and length intelligently, and often strangles a batsman who is looking for runs in ODIs.
"Test match bowling is something I want to get better at," he said at the start of the series. That is a part of my game I want to improve." Today wasn't a day he would be entirely satisfied with. He lured Sehwag, who was going after him, to hit one straight back to him and that should have helped him raise his performance, but he couldn't do it consistently. He has never had the big turn that a bowler of his pace and style needs to be a very good Test spinner, but has rarely slipped up on lengths. Today, he wasn't his usual accurate self and the Indians indulged.
The real damage though, was done yesterday. "We didn't score many runs in the first innings and they have a great partnership going now," Southee said. "Hopefully, we can pick early wickets tomorrow and fight our way back into it." May be they will surprise us but it looks unlikely. The game seems to be on auto-pilot and cruising towards a state where they will have to bat out two days to save it.