Richardson hundred puts New Zealanders in control
Close New Zealanders 299 for 5 (Richardson 128*, Oram 59*; Munaf 3-64) v India A
Stephen Fleming: got off to a start, but failed to cash in © AFP
Munaf Patel gave a tantalising glimpse of what India's quick-bowling future may hold, but it was Mark Richardson who dominated proceedings on the opening day of the three-day tour match at Rajkot. Richardson's unbeaten 128 was a masterly effort, comprising intense concentration, booming drives, clever sweeps and stodgy defence. After Munaf had ripped out three New Zealanders in a quick burst after lunch to reduce them to 91 for 4, Richardson, ably supported by Craig McMillan and Jacob Oram - with an attractive half-century - wrested the initiative, meting out some severe punishment in the late afternoon.
India A's bowlers made little use of a green-stubbled pitch that also had appreciable bounce in the morning session. Munaf's burst gave them a glimmer, but Richardson shut the door in emphatic fashion after tea.
The New Zealanders had lunched at 61 for 1, with Murali Kartik having bowled Lou Vincent for 11 (32 for 1) early on in the piece. Both Rudra Pratap Singh and Munaf were erratic with the new ball, though Munaf was unfortunate when Vincent fended a snorter over slip for four.
On his first-class debut, Munaf struggled to find consistency with his open-chested action. But soon after lunch, he started to get it right. First to go was Stephen Fleming - not a bad maiden wicket to get - who couldn't bail out of a stroke in time and played on for 27 (78 for 2). Fleming had earlier smacked Kartik for a huge six over long-on and played some pleasing strokes off his pads.
The cheers got even louder four overs later. The second wicket was a gift, as Scott Styris glanced a leg-side delivery fine, too close to Deep Dasgupta, who took a fine tumbling catch to his left (91 for 3).
Nathan Astle, always a poor starter, lasted one ball, adjudged leg before to a ball that struck him high on the pad. Suddenly, the miniscule crowd was buzzing, and though the hat-trick ball came to naught, India A were suddenly cracking the whip.
That dominance didn't last. Richardson was ruthless with any lapses in line and length, with Singh and Kartik singled out for especially harsh treatment.
Kartik struggled with his run-up all afternoon, bowling nine no-balls, and his attempts to flight his way to success only resulted in a succession of fours, down the track and off well-executed sweeps. As the day wore on, both Richardson and Oram came down the pitch without any trepidation and launched him straight back down the ground for huge sixes.
Singh too erred often with his line, and was easily picked off, while Sree Santh was pretty economical without ever threatening to run through the side. He did pick up McMillan just after tea, caught at second slip by Akash Chopra (180 for 5) before cramps forced him out of the attack.
The final session was all about showcasing Indian bowlers' traditional frailty against left-handed batsmen, and both Oram and Richardson took full toll as the New Zealanders finished much the stronger. A crashing off-drive from Oram off Singh in the final over of the day was symbolic of the manner in which India A's day went downhill after tea. The new ball made little impact and the inconsistent displays all round made one reassess all that recent hype about India's pace bowling resources.
On this evidence, opponents won't exactly be cowering in fear - certainly not those of the calibre of Richardson, who proved that his sterling batting on nightmarish pitches back home last December-January had no element of fluke about it.
Dileep Premachandran is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo in India.