New Zealand v India, 3rd Test, Wellington, 1st day

Fascinating cricket

Down here at the Basin Reserve a wide swinging delivery in the fourth over was crashed over point for six; the fifty was brought up in the 10th over

Sidharth Monga in Wellington

April 3, 2009

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Harbhajan Singh hits on the up, New Zealand v India, 3rd Test, Wellington, 1st day, April 3, 2009
On a fair day Harbhajan may not have reached double figures © Getty Images
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Test cricket is supposed to be serious cricket. Bowlers bowling just outside off, trying to draw batsmen out of their comfort zone; batsmen trying their best to get a feel of where their off stump is, venturing out judiciously if at all. Then there is the occasional bouncer. About 90 to 100 runs are scored in a typical Test session.

Try telling that to the kids who came with their fathers today to get schooled in the ways of Test cricket. "What a load of bull****", they would have responded. Pardon the language, but it was that kind of a day.

Down here at the Basin Reserve, a wide, swinging delivery in the fourth over was crashed over point for six; the fifty was brought up in the 10th over; though good-length deliveries just outside off had got the bowlers wickets, the tailenders were subjected to so many bumpers that they got used to the length and started swinging after clearing their front leg. There was a long final session that went for 185 runs, during which attempts were made to perfect the most awkward of steers to somewhere between three slips and two gullies and through to a waiting third man; a total of 214 runs came in fours and sixes. To put that in perspective, 205 were scored on the fourth day of the Napier Test. Today was that kind of day.

Those looking for class weren't disappointed either, for in the middle session Sachin Tendulkar put up another exhibition of balance, footwork, strokeplay: all perfect until he chased a wide delivery. India will look at that as an unfortunate dismissal, but then they were blessed with good fortune in the final session, just like Ross Taylor was on the first day in Napier.

That would have frustrated New Zealand, but they added to their troubles by bowling what seemed like more bouncers than normal deliveries once they got six Indian wickets. It was perhaps a reaction to the Indian batsmen walking down the wicket to counter the swing James Franklin and Chris Martin managed to get. MS Dhoni once walked down the wicket a la Gautam Gambhir, and then turned his back to the delivery - it was so short. And when New Zealand stopped bowling short to the tail, they were usually too full, thus opening up all 360 degrees of the field.

"Maybe [we bowled too short], when we reflect on that," Franklin said. "Sure the guys will reflect on the last half an hour and hour, and come back harder and get that last wicket."

Some funny moments ensued as New Zealand attempted to bowl out the tail: Munaf Patel went for an almighty slog and got four to third man, Zaheer Khan smashed a short one from Iain O'Brien straight past mid-off, and Munaf and Ishant Sharma collided with each other mid-pitch even as the bowler, O'Brien, stumbled as he picked up to throw.

The master of frustrating strokeplay was Harbhajan Singh, who added 60 to India's total. He edged between the slips and the gullies, over the slips, cleared mid-off, and twice got it past fielders who dropped him. It was a good thing Daniel Vettori shaved his beard leading up to this Test, or he would have torn it out. The fun continued into the post-match press conference, where Harbhajan expressed disappointment at missing out on a century - much to the amusement of those who thought that on a perfectly fair day he shouldn't even have got to double figures.

The crowd at this old-world venue didn't ooh and aah when Tendulkar upper-cut over the slips, or when the tail was bounced, or when Harbhajan put up his show. But they left thoroughly entertained.

Despite all the fun and games, this day was a fascinating chapter to an important Test match. Just like every day's play ideally should be. Both New Zealand and India can lay claim to the honours. At the toss, having put India in, New Zealand would have settled for nine wickets, but as Franklin said, they gave away 50 runs too many. Down at 204 for 6, India would gladly have taken 375 for 9 at stumps, but they will look at some of the dismissals earlier in the day, and wonder if they have learned anything from Napier. That's how Test cricket should be - both teams largely pleased with their work on that day and edgy about the following days; though perhaps deciding to be a little more serious and orthodox.

Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo

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