New Zealand v India, 1st Test, Auckland, 1st day February 6, 2014

New Zealand's young and old revel in rescue act

At 30 for 3, New Zealand were tottering, but Kane Williamson and Brendon McCullum laid down the marker to remind the visitors that they would not find the Tests any easier than they did the ODIs

Crowe: McCullum tailored his game for occasion

As Kane Williamson and Brendon McCullum walked off the ground at tea, Virat Kohli gestured in their direction, trying to catch their attention from around 50 feet away. McCullum looked to his left, Kohli clapped, and the New Zealand captain acknowledged the well-earned praise with a nod.

McCullum and Williamson had taken 125 runs off the 27 overs between lunch and tea. This after New Zealand were 30 for 3, having lost the toss on a grassy pitch under overcast skies. The pair would stretch that partnership to 221 runs at more than four an over before Williamson's unfortunate dismissal, feathering Zaheer Khan down the leg side.

By then though, New Zealand had shown beyond doubt that it was not going to get easier for India in the Tests than it was in the ODIs. New Zealand have been making a mockery of expectations and predictions throughout this series against the big boys from India. Few expected them to be anything more than competitive in the one-dayers, but they found refreshing consistency and almost swept the five-match series.

Surely it would be harder to match skills and temperament with a much higher ranked opponent in the longest format? At 30 for 3, it seemed to be so. Peter Fulton had two reprieves and still made only 13, Hamish Rutherford played too many shots too soon, and Ross Taylor was due a failure after successive centuries in the ODIs.

But another man, Williamson, was due a failure even more. Going back to New Zealand's last game in the Champions Trophy, Williamson has now made two centuries and ten fifties from his previous 16 international innings with a further two forties. Only once during this period has he fallen before reaching 10. It is one thing to be consistent, but to string together such a run at the age of 23 is incredible. It also shows how much belief he has in his own game to be able to stick to a plan irrespective of the situation.

Even Taylor seemed rattled in his short stay with the new ball kicking and seaming, but Williamson remained as calm as ever. He edged early, but with soft hands. He felt comfortable enough to step out and loft Jadeja at the stroke of lunch. Two balls after being put down on 32, he eased into a lovely push down the ground. Williamson has been widely marked for years to become one of New Zealand's best ever, but what about the captain?

This has to be one of the most crucial innings McCullum has played, both for his team and for himself. Such has been the recent history of New Zealand cricket that with Taylor's golden run, McCullum's relatively fallow period would inevitably stand out starker for many.

McCullum did more or less do the job he had to in three of his five innings in the ODIs - getting some quick runs after Williamson and Taylor's big partnerships. But he also had two successive ducks, and with Taylor sitting by his side after the end of the ODI series, McCullum was asked whether his own form was a concern. "Yes," he had replied.

And even before a reporter had finished the question about the toss the day before the Test, McCullum had interrupted him to say New Zealand would bowl. He felt the toss would be crucial on this pitch, and losing his sixth successive one to Dhoni this morning wouldn't have been too encouraging.

McCullum said after the toss that some hard work lay ahead for New Zealand's batsmen, and at 30 for 3, his job had become even more difficult. It is fascinating to watch an attacking batsman like McCullum being forced to curb his aggression in Test cricket. But apart from the odd swing-and-miss, McCullum curbed himself well during that crucial period before lunch. He was 5 off 20 at the break.

Even more fascinating was to watch McCullum and Williamson slowly but surely force Dhoni to spread the field a bit. In the 32nd over, McCullum cut Ishant Sharma in front of square for four. Dhoni removed one of his two gullys and put a man at extra cover. Next ball, McCullum cut again, this time through point for four more.

It is one thing to be consistent, but to string together such a run at the age of 23 is incredible. It also shows how much belief Williamson has in his own game to be able to stick to a plan irrespective of the situation

This was the period when whatever pressure the three wickets had created began to dissipate. Two balls after these fours, Williamson hooked Mohammed Shami for six. In the next over, McCullum pulled and slashed Zaheer for more runs through boundaries.

Dhoni began the 43rd over from Zaheer with deep point in place. McCullum reached his fifty with a push down the ground, and made room to cut the next ball to the third-man rope. The 45th over started with another slip being removed and two men at fine leg and deep square leg. But unfazed as ever, McCullum hooked, and split the gap between those two men.

It wasn't all boundaries, though. In the last over before tea, when Ishant bowled a few bouncers, both batsmen, who had pulled and hooked so well, just ducked.

Williamson credited McCullum for continuing to bat solidly after he had reached his hundred, something he personally could not do. McCullum hit only three boundaries after the landmark, and one of them was off an inside edge.

The one-day series triumph was the best he had been part of, McCullum had said. While he could justifiably take credit for that as the captain, the chief batting roles were performed by Taylor and Williamson. By ending the first day of the first Test on 143, McCullum has stamped a more personal mark on this contest.

Abhishek Purohit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • dummy4fb on February 6, 2014, 19:04 GMT

    Guess its more of bad captaincy by Dhoni than pathetic bowling by the Indians... surely not 10 to 15 of the top bowlers of a country be unable to bowl out oppositions for decent scores! I mean, this is where a captain like Clarke really stands out.... Test cricket needs brave decisions from captains and Dhoni moves into the defensive mode as just after 2 or 3 expensive overs which is really bad... after all, whats the use of restricting run scoring without picking up wickets? anyway the batsmen are going to settle in and plunder the bowlers later! I bet even steyn would get hit with such a strategy! Gambhir was such a good captaincy candidate and he was shunted out by dhoni! Virat doesn't have the temperament to lead India yet! Well done Mr Dhoni!

  • CurrentPresident on February 6, 2014, 17:11 GMT

    I seriously believe that Dhoni's captaincy is hurting the Indian team in overseas matches. His philosophy towards bowling is the reason Indian bowling unit is failing to take 20 wickets. The bowling resources are not as bad as they are made to look by the bad strategy of the captain.

    How do you expect a bowler to plot the dismissal and get a batsman out if the captain's instructions are to focus only on "not giving away runs" or "keep run rate under control". That limits the bowler's vision and they start focusing on how not to give away runs. That seldom works.

    To get wickets, you have to take a few risks, lay a trap or outwit the batsman. It is a whole different approach. The bowlers think differently, they plan differently and look at a definite end result. That improves motivation and helps formulate a plan where they explore the weakness of a batsman and then attack it relentlessly. Rather than being lions, we are being cows grazing aimlessly.

  • myStraightTalk on February 6, 2014, 15:25 GMT

    Can the selector sack Dhoni as captain in the middle of a Test match? If so Dhoni should be replaced by Kohli as captain to prevent india defeat in this match. Dhoni has no strategy and he is a predictable captain. He have not taken any responsibility so far for the mega failure of the indian team, instead he blamed the bowling and batting when india has clearly talented pools of players for any condition.

  • Arunvilla on February 6, 2014, 15:23 GMT

    Williamson will finish his career with 10000+ runs and finish as the best kiwi ever...i also loved how baz batted this would be great if they pull off a win.seems like the good old kiwi side is starting to come back.would love to see spurned whacking a few sixes been long since he hit some.India its upto chiku chintu and kinks to save this can't win if. nzl get 480+

  • jerryman on February 6, 2014, 13:42 GMT

    Well played NZ . Now need to be ruthless , try to get a total of 500 . Hope Brendon can get a 200 and Corey and the rest of the tail can add 120+ runs on their own . I have a feeling the weather Gods may come to India's rescue.. Williamson is certainly in good form and seems to carry over the form from the ODI series . Good luck Kiwis .

  • unbeleaveable on February 6, 2014, 12:28 GMT

    Good to see McCallum get runs under pressure, remember he got a test century against Wi as well. So the same as RT 2 test centuries this year. Will be interesting tomorrow morning, good thing NZ can all bat down to 11 - Boult, all can score some runs. Probably going to be hard going again at the start, although depends on how well India balls. Finally what a talent Williamson is and NZ bowlers will bowl with more fire and precision even though the pitch will be flatter. India needs some magic.

  • dummy4fb on February 6, 2014, 12:10 GMT

    Time to replace Fulton and Rutherford with Ryder and Guptill. Then you have a very potent Blackcaps batting line-up. Happy Whitangi day to all my NZ peeps. Glad that Williamson and McCullum made it a good one.

  • Dinkepo on February 6, 2014, 11:19 GMT

    We all crying here for the indians poor perfomances but there Srinivasan worried and fighting with ICC for more revenue, what a sprit of great cricket, so wait and see same story will happened such as ODI,every match MSD win the toss,select to bowling first,take 2 or 3 wickets early then using slow bowling to settle KW and companies also let them make good platform for late hitters finally the score gone upto sky later our batters fall like playing card, sure MSD will carry the new record with most toss winner when leaving kiwi but not single match winner! very simple question why Iswar Pandey was not lined up today even he took 3 wickets in practice match so MSD againg shown his adamant charactors as he keeping these low quality players even losing almost all the games.

  • android_user on February 6, 2014, 10:58 GMT

    NZ will be a strong contender to win the 2015 world cup.

  • ThePacifist10 on February 6, 2014, 10:51 GMT

    Williamson is most definitely the next Kiwi batting great. When Virat hit that ton in Adelaide, I knew he could become something special. This knock has done the same for me when it comes to Williamson. Once Taylor goes, this guy will lead the NZ batting charts. I'm sure of it.

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