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New Zealand quicks channel their inner Hatchet Man

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Boult wrecks India's top order on day three (1:17)

Trent Boult bags Prithvi Shaw, Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli to suppress India's response on Day 3. Watch India-New Zealand on ESPN+. (1:17)

Neil Wagner wasn't at the Basin Reserve, but he was there in spirit.

New Zealand had hardly missed him in the first innings, when Kyle Jamieson had proved to be a dissimilar but able replacement, and when the pitch gave their fast bowlers all the assistance they needed to bowl in mostly conventional Test-match fashion.

But now, on day three, when India began their second innings, New Zealand might have noted the absence of their hatchet man as they trooped onto the field. They were 183 ahead, yes, but that's not necessarily a watertight position on pitches in this country, which often flatten out around the time when both teams have completed their first innings.

This pitch still had something in it, but it quickly became evident, as Tim Southee and Trent Boult got into their new-ball spells, that that something wasn't necessarily seam movement off a good length. Once the swing subsided, the biggest ingredient for the fast bowlers to work with was bounce - or its vagaries, to be more precise.

This wasn't the kind of up-and-down pitch where some balls rear up and others scoot through low. The short ball, instead, was coming off the pitch at unpredictable pace. Some were skidding through quickly, others were stopping on the pitch and rising a little more steeply than expected.

Wagner may well have bowled all day here, if he'd been around. He wasn't, so Southee, Boult and Kyle Jamieson took turns bowling like him: hitting the middle of the pitch hard, from over and around the wicket, creating awkward angles by varying their positions on the crease.

"I think the luxury is that I have played a lot of cricket at the Basin Reserve," Boult said at his end-of-day press conference. "Generally, the wind is the biggest thing to deal with. But if I can chop and change those angles and not let a batsman get familiar or get set with what I'm trying to do, then I hope that will interrupt them.

"That's the luxury of being a left-armer and being able to use those subtle changes. The red balls here in New Zealand haven't been swinging as much as they have in the past, and if that's not happening for me then it comes down to changing angles and using different parts of the crease."

Given the length New Zealand's quicks bowled, the fields were heavily leg-side-oriented. Typically, there would be a long leg and a deep forward square leg on the boundary, and a leg gully and a forward short leg close to the bat. Occasionally, there would be something a little more unusual.

For the first seven overs of India's innings, Southee and Boult had bowled normal new-ball lengths, looking for swing and edges to the cordon. Mayank Agarwal, solidly, and Prithvi Shaw, less so, had moved India to 22 for no loss in that period.

Then, in the eighth over, Boult went around the wicket to Shaw, stationing three fielders square on the leg side. He moved his fine leg to deep backward square leg, and then stationed two fielders at almost handshaking distance some 20 yards from the bat, a square leg and a square midwicket..

Shaw dealt comfortably with the first two balls from the new angle, getting on top of the second one and chopping it between second slip and gully. The third ball, though, came out exactly as Boult wanted it to. It was short, angling into the batsman's left shoulder, and skidding through quickly off the surface. Shaw had no room to pull, and just about managed a weak flick, which popped up to the fielder at catching square leg, Tom Latham, who took it smartly diving to his left.

If he had been watching, Wagner would have nodded his approval.

The thing about Wagner, though, isn't so much that he bowls short to take bursts of wickets in the full-frontal, Mitchell Johnson way. He doesn't have the pace for it. He'll get the ball up to awkward heights, get it to come off the pitch at a hard-to-predict pace, and make life exceedingly difficult, but at Test level, quality batsmen can still survive this sort of examination.

Boult, Southee and Jamieson aren't Mitchell Johnson either. Their short bowling, therefore, was of the Wagnerian sort: nasty and brutish, but primarily defensive in intent.

You can bowl like that when you're sitting on a big lead. When India's fast bowlers had bowled short earlier in the day, New Zealand's lower order could afford to pull and hook with abandon, because they were already ahead and were looking to stretch their lead with a smash-and-grab approach. It was a high-risk, high-reward strategy, and on another day, they may have lost their last three wickets for not as many while taking the same approach, and not lost too much sleep over it.

India, however, were trying to overcome a sizeable deficit, and could not afford to lose a clump of wickets playing low-percentage shots. Not on this pitch. So Agarwal and Cheteshwar Pujara, Agarwal and Virat Kohli, Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane, and then Rahane and Hanuma Vihari - all these pairs embarked on the painful path of trying to survive the short ball - ducking, weaving, or riding the bounce and playing with soft hands - and wait for mistakes.

New Zealand's bowlers hardly made any. This pitch gave them a bigger margin for error than one with truer bounce might have, but even so, it was a remarkable effort from the three fast bowlers to offer up nothing that sat up to pull, and very little that could be cut or slashed.

"With the luxury of playing a bit of cricket on this wicket, we know it's a very good wicket generally and day three and four is the best time to bat," Boult said. "It's slightly drier than what we're used to but we know accuracy is a big thing.

"Playing against Indian batsmen, they like to feel the bat on ball and free their hands. Being a left-armer - I'm not giving you all my secrets but I'm going to bowl around the wicket to change that angle."

Another factor that allowed the three quicks to bowl this way was a man who ended the day with figures of 0 for 25, having bowled 14 overs of naggingly accurate, into-the-wind military-medium outswing. Colin de Grandhomme remains a hugely underrated Test cricketer, but not for too much longer if he keeps batting the way he did on Sunday morning with the lower order - playing classically straight, timing the ball like a dream when he had to, but otherwise curbing his attacking instincts - and bowling the way he did later on - he was almost unerringly accurate, wobbling the ball just enough, and incredibly hard to score off, with two short covers - three when Pujara was on strike - and a short midwicket to complement mid-on and mid-off in cutting off the straight-bat shots.

"He has found a way to be very defensive but very aggressive at the same time," was how Boult described de Grandhomme's bowling. "He almost plays the role like a spinner, and being able to bowl a few overs and control the run rate nicely. He has been very good for us and has been very frustrating for some oppositions."

How frustrating, exactly? Well, of every bowler who's taken at least 20 wickets since de Grandhomme's debut, only one, James Anderson, has a better economy rate than his 2.42.

The presence of this metronomic fifth bowler allowed Boult, Southee and Jamieson to mostly bowl with the wind at their back - with Southee doing the into-the-wind role when needed - and usually while relatively fresh.

Together, it was a masterclass in the waiting game. And India responded mostly in kind. It was an achievement, in a way, to only lose four wickets in 65 overs against bowling this relentless, but the runs came at a drip.

Frustratingly for India, they lost wickets in avoidable ways. Cheteshwar Pujara suffered a momentary lapse of judgment with tea imminent, and shouldered arms to a Boult inswinger that didn't start from all that wide outside off stump. Agarwal did all the hard work and got to 58, reaping the rewards for his patience against the fast bowlers by cashing in during a brief spell of left-arm spin from Ajaz Patel, before getting caught behind off a half-volley outside leg stump. Virat Kohli was the one batsman out while trying to hook a short ball. It was a low-percentage shot, given the field Boult had set, but such errors aren't unusual when a batsman is under constant pressure.

Boult acknowledged the pressure from Jamieson at the other end while talking about Kohli's wicket.

"In terms of Virat, he likes to feel the bat on ball like a couple of their guys," he said. "Definitely almost we miss [our lengths and lines], he hits, and he hits it well and gets boundaries. From our point of view we were trying to dry that up and for me personally using the wicket and the shorter ball was a good plan to try and control his run rate.

"It is nice to draw the error out of him but I think the way that Kyle has been bowling the whole match, especially that spell he bowled to him and not letting him get away to a racing start was a big part of it."

At stumps, India were 144 for 4, still trailing by 39 runs. They've gotten through two extended sessions of waiting game against waiting game, suffering a significant but not yet grievous loss of resources in the process, and they'll have to get through a whole lot more of it if they are to make anything of this Test match.