New Zealand v India, 1st Test, Hamilton, 1st day March 18, 2009

Wish you were here

It was an exhilarating day's play. Six wickets in the first session, followed by two superb centuries, a good comeback by the bowling side and a blazing start by the visitors

Those who didn't turn up at Seddon Park today - and only a few hundred did - missed out on an exhilarating day's play. Though numbers won't do justice, they are a handy guide to the action: Six wickets in the first session, followed by two superb centuries, a good comeback by the bowling side and a blazing start by the visitors.

It was a beautiful day with the sun out for long enough to take out all the dew from the grass banks. Fans could sit next to the sight screen at the City End without worrying about wetting their clothes. If it got too warm, the clouds made periodic appearances to cool things down. But they couldn't cool down the frenetic on-field action.

From behind the bowler's arm one could see the series get off to a stirring start with New Zealand's batsmen floundering against India's fast bowlers. That followed a brave decision by Mahendra Singh Dhoni to bowl first when the conventional wisdom would have suggested 'batting first, surviving the first session, and making merry.'

The pitch had some spice, but not enough to make it unplayable. Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma showed just why they are considered the best new-ball pair in the world with Zaheer using the away-going delivery to take wickets even though he couldn't get the lethal inswinger going. There was a destructive second spell by Ishant, with the wind behind him and the ball moving in dangerously. This was followed by an inswinger to Ross Taylor and two deliveries that went straight before a big in-dipper claimed his off stump.

There was Munaf Patel bowling into the wind, giving nothing away, playing the third pace bowler's role to perfection. He took the last wicket of the first session with one that moved away and took the shoulder of Brendon McCullum's bat.

Fans could walk right up to the pitch during lunch to see for themselves if it was as bad as a scoreline of 61 for 6 would suggest. They would have thought much the same as Daniel Vettori yesterday. There wasn't much wrong.

There was some grass, allowing some movement, but it was a true pitch. Vettori didn't sound too pleased with it yesterday. He felt it wouldn't provide enough pace and bounce. But instead, his side seemed down and out at lunch, suggesting that the New Zealand batting was not quite Test-match level.

Top Curve
Ryder's (very) nervous 90s
  • Iain O'Brien had helped Jesse Ryder move up from 77 to 98 when madness struck. O'Brien had survived a hat-trick first up but this time around he stepped out to Harbhajan Singh's first ball to defend and got stumped.
  • That brought on Chris Martin, the most hapless of No. 11s, and gave him five Harbhajan deliveries to face to give Ryder a shot at his century. With each ball that he kept out the cheers at the ground kept getting louder. The first Harbhajan delivery was a yorker that was played easily. The second was a doosra that went far away from his bat. The next was closer to the stumps and he defended with bat and pad close together. The fourth was another doosra that missed the bat easily.
  • The last ball of the over went off Martin's pad, straight to forward short leg. A relieved Ryder, whose smile kept getting wider with each ball, went up to Martin and said, "Well done mate."
  • First ball of the next over from Ishant Sharma, Ryder launched into his trademark short-arm pull to reach his hundred. Equally dramatically, he holed out next ball attempting a repeat.
Bottom Curve

But post-lunch, Vettori and Jesse Ryder set about proving that batting was not so difficult after all. Both batsman played with great determination and cut out on flashy strokes as they tried to spread the field.

Ryder did not reach out for anything away from his body and was content to leave good balls alone. Vettori took charge, mixing and matching imperious drives with irritating dabs and soon overtook Ryder to reach his third Test century, his second at the Seddon Park.

India supporters might have begun wondering if the side had lapsed to its old habit of not being able to finish off sides after running through the top order. Memories of previous late-order partnerships that had turned series around may have begun to flash. After all, the 186 runs that Ryder and Vettori put together is the highest partnership for the seventh wicket when the first six wickets have fallen for 60 or less.

But Munaf roared back, striking twice in two balls to even things up again. Attention began to focus on whether Ryder would get to his maiden Test century, having fallen short twice in six earlier Tests.

He got good support from Iain O'Brien and took his score to 98. But O'Brien lost it , jumping out to Harbhajan Singh and getting stumped. It all came down to Chris Martin - that most hapless of No. 11s - to survive the next five balls of the Harbhajan over.

Ryder's smile became bigger with each delivery that was played out and he thanked Martin at the end of the over. And then came the short-arm pull to bring up the century followed by his dismissal next ball.

And if enthusiasts thought this was enough, out came Virender Sehwag and crashed five boundaries in 18 deliveries to set up another potentially exciting day.

After the recent dull, bat-fests in West Indies and Pakistan, this was just the kind of rivetting day that Test cricket needed. Pity only a few hundred turned up.

Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo