Wellington boys exploit the conditions
A day before the Basin Reserve Test, even as India trained in one part of the ground, the home team, Wellington, were having a special gathering. The Test players from Wellington, James Franklin, Iain O'Brien and Jeetan Patel, changed from their training clothes to Wellington whites, and joined Mark Gillespie, Grant Elliot and other Wellington players for a team photograph.
Everyone took their places but just as the photographer got ready to click, Virender Sehwag - from one end of the ground - pulled one straight into the gathering and scattered the Wellington players. Sehwag is used to hitting those big shots in the nets and didn't spoil that party on purpose, but the Wellington boys, Franklin and O'Brien, did spoil Sehwag's party today, and there was a certain sense of deliberation to it.
Thirteen overs into India's innings, New Zealand's gamble of fielding first seemed to be going horribly wrong. India had coasted to 64 for 0, and as is generally the case with Sehwag if he plays till lunch, a century in the first session cannot be ruled out. Surprisingly Tim Southee had been given the new ball ahead of the local boys; he couldn't control the swing at the start and the result was as expected.
But once O'Brien was introduced, New Zealand regained control. Immediately he hit a perfect area, just short of good length, and got extra bounce from the pitch. In his second over, he surprised Sehwag with the lift. The batsman looked to punch with a vertical bat when he would have been better off cutting with a horizontal one.
When James Franklin was introduced in the 17th over, it translated into pressure from both ends. Franklin got the ball to swing in, creating doubts in the batsmen's mind. How Franklin set Gautam Gambhir up in his first over was the bowling highlight of the day. Getting the ball to consistently move away from Gambhir, he got the batsman to step out of the crease. In doing so, Gambhir walked across the stumps and Franklin slipped one in straight through, with a scrambled seam, and caught him plumb in front.
The dangerous openers gone, New Zealand could now look to implement their plans for the other batsmen and exercise some control on the game. O'Brien was particularly impressive in troubling Rahul Dravid with ones that held their line after looking to come in towards the batsman.
"We caught Wellington on a pretty good day today," Franklin said. "There wasn't much wind. Obviously Iain and myself have grown up here so we know ground conditions pretty well."
The two are completely different kind of bowlers: O'Brien likes to hit the deck hard and relies on bounce and pace, while Franklin relies mainly on swing. O'Brien picked the Southern End to bowl from, so he would be running into the southerlies if they showed up. He has made himself a bit of a reputation for liking the difficult task of bowling into the wind. Franklin from the other end could get more help from the pitch. In their first spell of six overs each, they conceded 22 runs between them and brought New Zealand back into the contest.
They provided Chris Martin with a base for the second comeback of the day, in the middle session when he nicked Sachin Tendulkar out and started a collapse. Twice in two sessions New Zealand managed to rein India in. "Last hour of the first session we bowled pretty well, and last hour of the second session as well," Franklin said. "We were pretty slow to start off with in the two sessions, but once we got our lines and lengths right, the ball swung around quite nicely."
In the third session, though, there was no comeback. The bowlers went on the offensive and tried to blow the tailenders away rather than bowl them out. O'Brien, though, came back to get Zaheer Khan's wicket but not before he had been taken for 18 runs in the over. In the process New Zealand gave away about 50 runs more than they would have liked to. It could have been much worse but for the opening spells from O'Brien and Franklin.
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo