Tim McIntosh became only the 11th batsman to follow a pair with a century, and Martin Guptill came back to the Test side with an eventually attractive 85 to continue what has been an impressive tour of India so far. The selection masterstroke, the inclusion of Guptill and persistence with McIntosh, almost didn't work, but a red-hot Sreesanth overstepped when he had Guptill caught for five, and MS Dhoni dropped him on 11. By the time India produced their next opportunity, the two had added 147, and New Zealand were well on their way to claiming honours on the first day.
More importantly, McIntosh became the first New Zealand opener in six years to score an away century. He was solid against pace, was happy to wait out his runs, escaped Zaheer Khan's grip slowly, finger by finger, and then settled in for a long workmanlike effort. Against spin he used his feet beautifully, coming down the track often, not always with the intent of hitting the ball hard. Guptill, of the classy 30s known for his beautiful drives, stumbled through the first 20 runs or so, and then claimed the keys to go driving, hitting eight of his 10 boundaries down the ground.
Guptill was the fortunate one, but for India it was an accident waiting to happen. India had bowled 81 no-balls in the six Tests prior to this, but the way it came about seemed a bit cruel. Sreesanth had started off with his best spell in a long time. The seam position was perfect, swing and bounce were extracted, and so was an early edge from Brendon McCullum, with a ball that kicked off just back of a length, and left the batsman. He went on to torment Guptill, duly producing an edge. The next man in, Ross Taylor, had crossed Guptill by the time umpire Kumar Dharmasena finished conferring with the third umpire, and rightly called it a no-ball. It was the third such instance for India this home season, and second for Sreesanth.
An angry outswinger followed, but it was too good to take the edge. All Sreesanth had to show for his effort was a right to glare at the batsman who was smiling at his luck moments ago, and a nod of acknowledgement after being beaten. Guptill was to get away again soon. Harbhajan Singh had set him up with big offbreaks, and then bowled one that didn't turn as much. Dhoni, too, expected the ball to turn big, and went too far inside the line. The edge hit his index finger, and the deflection fell wide of slip.
After that, though, Guptill and McIntosh acquired complete control. The only time McIntosh looked like getting out was on 91, when he top-edged a sweep off Harbhajan over the keeper's head. Otherwise, he was disciplined in a manner that would make Mark Richardson proud. The instructive part of his innings was the early battle against Zaheer, the only bowler he managed to face in Ahmedabad. At one point he had faced 29 balls in the series, all from Zaheer, without scoring a run. The first ball from a bowler other than Zaheer, though, was cover-driven handsomely for four. In Zaheer's next over, he repeated the cover-drive, and set up his tent.
McIntosh's footwork against spin was a treat. He might not be the quickest in coming down the track, but he covered the turn and bounce well, often pushing the ball into gaps for ones and twos. The chip shot for six that took him to 65 was a beauty: he gave Ojha the charge, and then just played the pick-up over midwicket. Only once did he get violent upon charging at the bowler, moving from 94 to 98 with a straight hit off Harbhajan.
That was enough to scatter the field, and he picked two easy singles to reach his second century. Those defensive fields were the feature of India's day. Harbhajan came onto bowl in the 11th over, with a deep point, with the score at 24 for 1. Ojha wasted little time in getting himself a long-off and bowling over the wicket.
Guptill, who put up quite a show with his shots in the second session, exploited India's fields beautifully. He went from 36 to 40 by driving Ojha between him and mid-off. Immediately long-off went back, immediately Guptill went from 40 to 41 with a push to long-off. He slog-swept Harbhajan to go from 70 to 74. Immediately the on-side field went back, immediately he went from 74 to 75.
Somehow India hung in, just about, getting Guptill 15 minutes before tea, through a marginal lbw decision off the bowling of Ojha. Often India's saviour with the ball, Zaheer produced two inspirational moments in the final session, getting the wicket of a dangerous-looking Taylor with one that moved away from round the stumps, and to add respectability to India's effort, getting McIntosh to play on five minutes from stumps. This was the sixth time Zaheer had removed McIntosh in Tests, but for 93.5 more than what his average was against India.