Ashwin, Pujara shine in innings win
12 for 85
R Ashwin erased the memory of a grinding Test tour of Australia by recording his best ever match-haul in the first Test of the season. The combination of a spinning Hyderabad pitch and a weak opposition in New Zealand proved an easy enough challenge for Ashwin, who ran through the side twice to help India secure an innings win.
After India's batsmen put New Zealand under pressure with the weight of runs, Ashwin didn't waste time in turning the screws. He had Martin Guptill inside-edging a catch to Virat Kohli off his very first ball. In the next over, he picked up Ross Taylor in a similar manner and, with their three experienced batsmen back in the pavilion, New Zealand started feeling the squeeze. Ashwin had the support of Pragyan Ojha, who also kept things tight at the other end. Not long after, Ashwin had one sneak past Chris Martin's forward plod, giving him his sixth wicket in the innings as New Zealand folded for 159.
Following on, New Zealand batsmen provided some resistance initially as they went past 100 with the loss of only two wickets. It took more than 12 overs for Ashwin to get his first wicket - that of Ross Taylor - but soon, he added five more in his last seven overs to finish with 12 wickets in the match, earning him the Man-of-the-Match award.
Cheteshwar Pujara took guard at the crease under intense scrutiny from experts and fans alike. Not only was the shadow of Rahul Dravid's successful career looming over him, his reputation of being a heavy scorer in domestic cricket added to the pressure. Pujara was in early - in the 11th over - but didn't show any nerves as he blocked and left the balls confidently. His first runs came via a flick off the pads off his eighth ball and his first boundary came in the 35th. As his innings grew, he unfurled fierce cuts, pulls and drives without showing any weaknesses, while staying compact and solid. His half-century came of 119 balls, after which he opened his shoulders to increase the pace of scoring, punishing anything short and wide. His second fifty came off 50 balls.
In a manner befitting Dravid, Pujara continued to build on the strong start and brought up his 150 to put India into a strong position before falling after an uncharacteristic loss in concentration. Pujara, though, had convinced one and all that he is in for the long haul.
Devashish Fuloria is a sub-editor with ESPNcricinfo