New Zealand gain significant advantage on slow first day

It wasn't quite possible to hear the squeaking of under-prepared muscles and joints in the New Zealand team but they showed the depth of their competitive resolve by getting on top of India from the second over of the first Test in the National Bank Series at Wellington today.

New Zealand were 108 runs behind India when play was abandoned for the day with nine overs remaining due to bad light.

Once they were off the field rain swept in. Play is to start 30 minutes earlier tomorrow.

Despite their lack of recent matchplay, and a poor catching performance behind the wicket, New Zealand got their foot on the Indian throats and it was only a defiant, and absolutely classy innings by Rahul Dravid that saved India from total disaster.

After all the talk before the match of the importance of winning the toss, it was no surprise that home captain Stephen Fleming should immediately put India in when Sourav Ganguly called incorrectly.

Any concerns that the strong north-west wind blowing across the ground would put the New Zealand bowlers off their rhythm proved unfounded due to a superb effort by Daryl Tuffey.

He bowled the first four overs into the wind and set the trend for the rest of the innings by conceding only two runs while removing both openers to leave India nine for two wickets.

For an underdone side, the New Zealanders would have been happy with restricting India to 161. How much better they could have done had they been finely-tuned is something they will only be able to ponder as they look to sharpen their next effort in the field.

There was an obvious lack of harmony in the slips cordon. First slip Fleming and second slip Nathan Astle each dropped catches while two chances were missed when the ball flew past fieldsmen who didn't even attempt to catch the ball. The first was between Astle and third slip Scott Styris and the most glaring was between wicket-keeper Robbie Hart and Fleming.

New Zealand were able to get away with it, but the lack of finesse in this area was compensated for on the outer fringes of the catching ring where fourth slip Lou Vincent and gully Jacob Oram completed some outstanding catches.

Vincent's catch of Ganguly off the last ball before lunch was a fine effort, diving full length to his left to take it just before it hit the grass.

And Oram's would have had the shutterbugs competing to outdo themselves to capture the sight of the 2.01m tall Oram leaping high to get a ball that climbed off the splice of Zaheer Khan's bats. Oram, an albatross of a man in the gully, caught the ball but then lost his grip while falling. He regained it to complete a superb catch to end the Indian innings.

The bowling was dominated by Tuffey's fine display of control, but Oram was also tight. Fast man Shane Bond took time to settle into his rhythm and his second spell, on either side of the lunch break was his best. It was he who suffered as Fleming and Astle both spilled chances. He constantly generated speed around the 140km/h mark.

Dravid showed why he is probably the best batsmen in the world in all conditions. The Basin Reserve was asking much of the batsmen as the ball moved back into the right-handed batsmen. Adding to the batsmen's discomfort was the higher bounce, a result of the hardness of the pitch and the good grass cover.

But none of that unsettled Dravid who only gave the New Zealanders a chance when he realised his time was running out with eight wickets down. He opened himself up and while he gained 12 more runs to reach 76, he also left enough of a gap between his bat and pad on one occasion which allowed Styris to get the ball through to bowl him.

His innings lasted 246 minutes and he faced 173 balls while hitting 13 fours in what was a vivid demonstration of his great skills. Some of his cutting of Bond especially was laser-like in its precision.

Bond came into the game under a degree of expectation and took time to settle into his stride and it was in his second spell that he looked most dangerous. He gained away movement and some genuine spite from the bouncy track. He took three for 66 in what was a satisfactory display and was given outstanding support by the very economical Tuffey whose 16 overs, most of them into the wind, resulted in him taking two for 25.

Oram could also feel well satisfied with his effort which saw him claim the prized wicket of Sachin Tendulkar leg before wicket as his maiden Test wicket, a dismissal to remember, although Tendulkar might have felt hard done by in Asoka de Silva's decision.

Styris, was sitting on a hat-trick which would have been the ultimate prize given the fact that in his only other Test he scored a century and a half-century. He came very close to achieving it too, when an edge from Khan's bat fell just short of Vincent at third slip.

He finished with three from 28 having suffered as Dravid and Khan went after quick runs after India found themselves 118/8.

New Zealand lost Vincent just as he was starting to free up for 12 runs when the score was 30 but Fleming joined Mark Richardson to reach 53/1 when play was abandoned. Richardson was 27 not out and Fleming was 11 not out.

One, or both, of these players has a big role in New Zealand achieving a significant lead tomorrow.