India forced to play 'catch up'
It had all the makings of a dramatic day for India. In fact, things started happening too quickly last afternoon. They arrived here in Napier at around 2pm, hit the nets straight, looked ready for the Test, and all of a sudden Virender Sehwag walked out for the toss next morning.
In a flash, New Zealand were 23 for 3, and a repeat of Hamilton looked on the cards. Just as quickly, catches were being dropped, edges kept finding safe routes, and some glorious shot-making from Ross Taylor and Jesse Ryder took the day away from India.
There must be some truth to the theory that luck plays some part in MS Dhoni being a successful captain. On the day he had to pull out because of a back spasm, India lost the toss on a belter. Sehwag didn't have the services of Sachin Tendulkar in the slips because of an injured finger from the last game, and Yuvraj Singh showed that third slip was not his favoured position.
While Yuvraj had a mixed day in the field, Rahul Dravid's experience was forgettable. Edges kept dropping in front of him on a pitch that had good, true bounce. When a tough one flew by his left, he couldn't react in time. He couldn't convert the half chance when Taylor edged Yuvraj between him and Dinesh Karthik.
India needed to grab those half chances on this pitch. This is how Sehwag assessed the McLean Park track: "It is a good track to bat on, and there is nothing for the bowlers. So hopefully we will do well when we bat.
"It was a tough day for bowlers. It is not easy to bowl one line or length because it is coming on to the bat and with a fast outfield, if batsmen play their shots and the ball goes in the gap, it is very difficult to set the field when someone is playing shots . Ross Taylor and Jesse Ryder played really well in their partnership of 271. The way they were batting, it wasn't easy to stop them from scoring runs."
Once Taylor and Ryder got going, only Harbhajan Singh exercised some control over the run flow. Between them, Taylor and Ryder managed 60 runs off the 148 deliveries they faced from Harbhajan. "Harbhajan really bowled well but there is nothing for the fast bowlers," Sehwag said. "There is just bounce, and if someone is well set, with the ball coming on nicely and with the bounce you can play your shots."
That said, India had their chances. They could have had New Zealand down at 31 for 4 and stopped that partnership at various other stages. "The bowlers bowled well," Sehwag said. "If we had taken catches, we could have taken seven or eight wickets. But it happens in cricket. Some days you catch everything, some days you drop everything."
Things might have slowed down, but from the way the pitch looks, the onus will be on their batsmen to get back up to pace. The sooner, the better.
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo