Finally we have official word that this is it for day. An engrossing contest between two high-quality sides playing high-quality cricket. Shame about the weather, though. We have lost roughly about eight hours of play now. If we get enough good weather to make up for half an hour on each of the coming days, we still haven’t lost any time in this Test thanks to the reserve day. A lot to look forward to on the coming days. Here is a teaser from the end-of-the-day report. See you tomorrow
We have had a little over two sessions worth of cricket in the first two days of the World Test Championship final, but they have been real good ones featuring high-quality cricket worthy of the occasion. When bad light curtailed the second day to just 64.4 overs after the first day was washed out, India, asked to bat in challenging conditions against a deep attack, were 146 for 3 and, you’d suspect, the happier side.
New Zealand will not be more than a little disappointed after Rohit Sharma and Shubhman Gill ran away to a 62-run opening stand: their second string of bowlers dragged India back after an uncharacteristically indifferent start from Tim Southee and Trent Boult. However, towards the end of the day, Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane looked sublime in fading light, playing the ball delightfully late and biding their time as New Zealand didn’t offer easy scoring opportunities. No batting duo now has more fifty-run stands for the fourth wicket or lower.
The light is deemed too gloomy again. Virat Kohli in no mood to hang around even though he has looked sublime yet again. India 146 for 3 in 64.4 overs.
The light seems to have improved, and we are ready for resumption in about five minutes.
We are off again
3.1 overs of fascinating Test cricket in the final session before the light becomes dim again, and we have gone off. The highlight of this brief little play was Tim Southee showing the India batters inswingers and then bowling outswinngers. He beat Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane four times in one over. For some reason, Kohli has been a little circumspect this session. India 134 for 3 in 58.4 overs. India were not in control of seven of the 19 balls this session.
Coming back on
Light seems to have improved. We have lost only about 10 minutes to bad light.
The tea break is over, but the light has not improved in Southampton. So we are in for a delay. It looks quite overcast. Hoping that there is some play at last in the rest of the day.
Umpires makes the DRS review signal
At 3.10pm, 15 minutes before the scheduled tea interval, the umpires get together amid gloomy light and make the “T” signal that players make when asking for a review. It could be a “time-out” signal for bad light or a “T” sign for “tea”. So we have early tea, and the light metre reading has been taken. There will be no play in light this poor in the rest of the Test.
At tea, India are 120 for 3 after an engrossing session. New Zealand were forced into their Plan B of bowling Colin de Grandhomme to Virat Kohli and Neil Wagner going to the bouncers. In doing that, they kept a lid on the scoring rate, and Trent Boult removed Cheteshwar Pujara. Just 51 runs in 27.3 overs in that session, but India lost just the one wicket. The funny thing is, despite what looked like a more testing session, India were not in control just 18 times, taking their control percentage up to 86.
Virat Kohli has looked imperious in testing conditions once again.
So what happened with Boult v Kohli appeal?
Massive confusion but it was all according to protocols. Boult appealed for a catch down the leg side, and the two umpires got together for a discussion. In between Boult seemed insistent he wanted a review. Kane Williamson checked with the umpires if he needed a review, and they said no, because Umpire Illingworth believed Kohli had hit it. They were just checking the catch. And they went up to the third umpire with a soft signal of out.
Now this is where it might have got confusing. They even checked if Kohli had hit it. But hey that is part of protocol too. I am quoting the ICC playing conditions here
2.2.3 The third umpire shall determine whether the batsman has been caught, whether the delivery was a Bump Ball, or if the batsman obstructed the field. However, in reviewing the television replay(s), the third umpire shall first check the fairness of the delivery for all decisions involving a catch (all modes of No ball except for the bowler using an Illegal Bowling Action, subject to the proviso that the third umpire may review whether the bowler has used a prohibited Specific Variation under Article 6.2 of the Illegal Bowling Regulations) and whether the batsman has hit the ball. If the delivery was not a fair delivery or if it is clear to the third umpire that the batsman did not hit the ball he/she shall indicate to the bowler’s end umpire that the batsman is Not out caught, and in the case of an unfair delivery, advise the bowler’s end umpire to signal No ball. See also paragraph 2.5 below. Additionally, if it is clear to the third umpire that the batsman is Out by another mode of dismissal (excluding LBW), or Not out by any mode of dismissal (excluding LBW), he/she shall notify the bowler’s end umpire so that the correct decision can be made.
India 95 for 3 in 45 overs.
Boult makes a comeback
Cheteshwar Pujara had done a lot of hard work against Neil Wagner. Shiva Jayaraman dug out this delicious little thread. “Pujara’s patience has forced Wagner to turn to his plan B, of bowling short, Wagner’s go-to length in Tests elsewhere. Wagner has taken over a hundred wickets with short/short-of-good-length ball in Tests outside England at an average of 22.43. But in England he’s used it sparingly. Only three of Wagner’s 15 wickets in England have come with the short stuff and have been almost twice as expensive as his wickets off that length outside England. Wagner’s strike rate with the short ball is 68. In comparison, he has taken 11 wickets with balls landing on around the good-length area at an average of 16.8 and a strike rate of 52.2.”
However, the problem with a five-man attack is that they keep coming at you. Off went Wagner, and on came Trent Boult, Pujara’s nemesis outside India with with four dismissals for just 48 runs. First ball to Pujara here, and he made it five dismissals for 48 runs. The perfect inswinger, pitching middle, swinging against the angle, hitting leg. Four out of these five dismissals are either bowled or lbw.
Pujara doing Pujara things
Thirty-six balls to get off the mark. Not even the longest he has taken to score his first run. Then ferocious cut even as his captain Virat Kohli is stuck playing Sir Colin at the other end. Then a pristine cover-drive. In between shaping up to upper-cut Neil Wagner before eventually bailing out. Then he attempts the hook. A shot he has eliminated from his repertoire. The last time he played it – and I could be wrong – was when he holed out at Trent Bridge.
So there seems to be a plan to not let Wagner keep bowling bouncers as he did in New Zealand last year. Now what happens when he hooks? He is late into the shot, and there is a sickening thud as the ball hits the helmet and the stem guard flies off. Wagner walks off and knocks fists with Pujara to make sure he is okay.
Concussion protocols follow, and Pujara is back up batting, but this is a fascinating session of Test cricket. India will love for the ends of the batters to change. A single or a three somewhere. India 78 for 2 in 37 overs. Only nine runs in nine overs since lunch. And yet India have been not in control only four times this session.
Why is Colin de Grandhomme bowling at the start of the second session
Apart from the mullet, that is.
Well, usually you start a session with two bowlers likeliest to get you a wicket. You would have thought it would be an outswing and an inswing bowler. Now apart from the fact that Tim Southee is off the field – still sitting on the sidelines so hopefully not a serious injury – there is also perhaps memories of de Grandhomme getting Virat Kohli out in New Zealand. They were similar seam-friendly conditions where he bowled outswingers before trapping Kohli lbw. So the match-up so far is 10 balls, 1 run, 1 wicket.
Now the reason behind this is what the experts have been telling you on the telly. Kohli is exceptional against high pace, but this dibbly-dobbly pace, when aided with great discipline and helpful conditions, is a bit of a blind spot for him. De Grandhomme nearly got Kohli with the last bal of the 32nd over, swinging one from middle and off, and clipping the pad, but just missing off. He has now bowled two maidens at Kohli. India 74 for 2 after 34 overs.
Why three reviews?
Many, including Aaron Finch, have noticed why the sides have three reviews each now that neutral umpires are back for this Test. They are also ICC elite umpires. Doesn’t make much of a difference to me, but seems like it is a hot topic. So Nagraj Gollapudi has done some finding out with the ICC. The crux of the explanation is: These were the playing conditions for the last few series, and they don’t really change the playing conditions mid-tournament unless it is really exceptional circumstances. Like it was when Covid-19 forcing this change to increasing the number of reviews from two to three.
And, oh, welcome back to the middle session.
Lunch: New Zealand pull it back slightly
Score first: India 69 for 2 in 28 overs. Both openers gone after a 62-run stand, which tells you New Zealand have pulled things back. Cheteshwar Pujara is 0 off 24 (just warming up) and Virat Kohli has played one imperious cover-drive already. Kyle Jamieson and Neil Wagner are the wicket-takers. India have been not in control of 30 balls, which gives them a control percentage of 82.
Now to the story of the session. India will be slightly more pleased with this session than New Zealand after having being put in on a pitch that had been under covers for two days and under overcast skies. New Zealand are a great control bowling side. They have the best economy rate in this WTC cycle despite playing on the flat home tracks.
In this session, though, they went searching too much. Tim Southee and Trent Boult just didn’t get it right early on. Perhaps it is the pressure of expectation when your captain sticks the opposition in. Perhaps it was India’s batters refusing to provide them a stationery target. They kept moving down the pitch to cut out the swing. By the time Kane Williamson split the two, India had already scored 37 runs.
The change bowlers then tried to bowl that channel and dry up the runs, which is why Colin de Grandhomme was bowled before Wagner. De Grandhomme produced two plays and misses from Rohit Sharma, but also provided him short balls to drive off the back foot. New Zealand are fortunate they have managed to draw those two errors from Rohit and Shubhman Gill towards the end of the session.
Also the pitch hasn’t quite seamed as much as was expected in such circumstances. So expect New Zealand to bowl with much more discipline rather than looking for magic balls in the second session. India ahead, but they have work to do.
We’ve been expecting you, Mr Wagner
There was some debate during the Test series against England if Neil Wagner was superfluous in England where his methods of hustling batters with short-pitched bowling on flat pitches might not be called into play. Looking at Wagner’s contribution to New Zealand over the years, this was a ridiculous thought, but such is this game’s reliance on conditions that there might actually have been thought around it.
However, Wagner earned this selection by bowling proper seam and swing in the Test series against England. And he has vindicated himself – if vindication was needed, that is – with a wicket third ball into his spell even though he is the fifth bowler used.
This is classic, Zaheer Khan-level, even Wasim Akram-level skill. They just need to swing one ball early into an over, and then they play around with the batter. Wagner swung the first ball back into Gill, and two balls later he bowled the same length, making him push at the ball, which held its line this time and took the edge. India 63 for 2 in 24.3 overs. Gill gone for 28 off 64.
Jamieson gets New Zealand on the board
The rare mistake from Rohit Sharma. He has been good at leaving balls outside off. The times he has played and missed it has been forced by pitching the ball on off or close to off. Finally, he does play at a wide ball, perhaps because Jamieson has caused uncertainty by going wide on the crease, and the outswing takes the edge for a lovely low catch at third slip by Tim Southee. India’s first 60-plus stand in England in more than 10 years ends. India 62 for 1 in 20.1 overs. Rohit Sharma gone for 34 off 68.
Back-foot drives, front-foot pulls and push-drives
India’s batting has been glorious so far in this session. The three shots that have stood out are Rohit Sharma’s back-foot drives, and Shubhman Gill’s pulls off the front foot and the defensive full-pace defensive push-drive for boundaries down the ground.
Three maidens to drinks
They have strung together three maiden overs, but India have now seen off both the new-ball bowlers. Not unsurprisingly Colin de Grandhomme has been given the ball ahead of Neil Wagner. As expected, New Zealand have pulled the length back after that start. Shiva Jayaraman has looked at the lengths. “Only one full ball in the last three overs, which were maidens. Every other balls was on length or just short of it. In the first 11 overs, there were 23 balls that weren’t on those lengths and were taken off for 30 runs.”
India 41 for 0 after 14 overs. This is a great start for them after being put it. Their control percentage is 79.
The 12th over of the innings is the first maiden bowled by New Zealand. It backs up the observation that they have not bowled enough in testing areas. Not enough stock balls strung together. The variation ball has come out too soon. There has been no set-up.
The batters haven’t allowed that to happen either. They have moved at the bowlers, and they have punished any error in length. India 41 for 0 after 12 overs.
Excellent start for India
Half an hour gone, and India are off to a brisk positive start. Anyone will take 29 for 0 in eight overs after being inserted in overcast conditions on a pitch that had stayed covered for two days.
Things to note:
1. India’s openers feel Trent Boult and Tim Southee don’t have the pace to keep them in the crease. They have often walked at the bowlers to play the ball before it has moved.
2. Boult and Southee hadn’t quite found their radar yet. There have been balls down the leg side, and also there have been ones easy to leave. Only one proper play and miss in eight over, and one outside edge that has gone along the ground for four.
3. Yet India’s control percentage is 75%, which means they have not been in control of 12 balls. This is about the time teams start to expect wickets.
4. The Dukes ball starts swinging properly only after half a dozen overs.
5. Is there something to be said of the pressure the bowlers are under when they are bowling in such conditions and are expected to deliver a sub-200 total?
Starting on a sombre note
India are wearing black armbands in tribute to the great runner Milkha Singh and his wife Nirmal Kaur, who died of post-Covid complications.
Milkha was one of the greatest sportspeople India has produced. At 91, he went for a run a couple of days before he tested positive. Run in peace, King Milkha
A few days ago, his wife Nirmal, former India captain at volleyball, died, too, of Covid. Just a reminder of times we live in before we embark on our celebration of Test cricket.
New Zealand stick India in
Kane Williamson has won the toss, and asked India to bat first. He has won 19 tosses in Test cricket, and chosen to field in 14 of them. Many of them are because New Zealand is a bowl-first country and the pitches there just keep getting better and better.
This decision, though, is down to the conditions created by the rain and the weather forecast. There is early moisture to be exploited, and the cool weather means the pitch won’t deteriorate as much as it usually does in Tests, which actually makes batting first the right choice most of the times. The last spot in their side goes to Colin de Grandhomme so they are going in with no spinner.
India, on the other hand, are sticking with two spinners. Virat Kohli says their spinners are of such high quality they can use a damp surface too. As R Ashwin showed at MCG late last year when he took important wickets in the first session. So they didn’t feel any need to change the XI they had named.
By the way, India, too, would have bowled first had they won the toss.
New Zealand 1 Tom Latham, 2 Devon Conway, 3 Kane Williamson (capt.), 4 Ross Taylor, 5 Henry Nicholls, 6 BJ Watling (wk), 7 Colin de Grandhomme, 8 Kyle Jamieson, 9 Tim Southee, 10 Neil Wagner, 11 Trent Boult
‘Pleasurable for bowlers’
The pitch report is in. Simon Doull and Sunil Gavaskar see the grass and call it a “pleasurable” surface for the bowlers. There is grass, there are the overheads. And this Test might not get all five days in. So a real case for bowl first.
India’s coach Ravi Shastri has confirmed India won’t change the XI they had named. Had it rained even today, they might have thought along those lines, but there is enough depth, skill and variation, he says, for a proper Test match.