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IND vs NZ | Christchurch Day 1 Talking Points - ‘Shaw’-shank redemption and the Tim Southee show

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IND vs NZ | Christchurch Day 1 Talking Points - ‘Shaw’-shank redemption and the Tim Southee show

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Anirudh Suresh

02/29/2020

It was déjà vu for India as, after being asked to bat on a green Christchurch wicket, Virat Kohli’s men folded in under 65 overs to hand New Zealand the initiative early in the game. The Indian bowlers will have their work cut-out on Day 2 on a pitch that still has plenty of help for the seamers.

Prithvi Shaw-shank redemption

In the first Test in Wellington, there were more people upset about Prithvi Shaw’s inclusion over Shubman Gill than there were about India’s dismal batting performance. There were a few sadistic grins on Thursday when it was reported that Shaw might potentially miss the Christchurch Test, but the schadenfreude soon turned into disappointment when Shaw walked in to bat on Saturday. His performance, however, was anything but a disappointment; it was a masterclass on how to bat on a green wicket. 

On a Hagley Oval wicket that was indistinguishable from the outfield, where the writing for the batsmen seemed to be on the wall, Shaw displayed a new-ball performance for the ages. His approach was simple - play as straight as possible and ensure every bad ball was put away. Sure enough, there were a lot of bad balls, but the youngster ensured that a loose, somewhat complacent, under-cooked Kiwi attack paid the full price for it. He got a good, long stride in for the fuller balls he drove and seldom threw his bat whilst cutting the ball, more often than not playing the ball right under his eyes whilst pulling the trigger. He also negated the balls coming in - his Achilles Heel so far in his short career - with ease and, unlike in Wellington, did not fall to the trap that the Kiwis laid out for him. 

A combination of Shaw’s self-awareness and aggression took the Kiwis aback on a wicket that seemed to be eternal damnation for batsmen. He marked his last ball of the first hour with a cover drive off de Grandhomme and, with that, also ended up winning bragging rights and justifying his selection over Gill.  

A tale of three Tim Southee spells

On the first look of the pitch, Christchurch looked like a wicket that any pacer would take two flights, three buses and walk five kilometers just to get a bowl on. So naturally, when Southee - coming on the back of a 9-fer in Wellington - took the brand new red cherry, there was buzz around the ground thinking of the damage he could potentially inflict. But it turned out to be anticlimactic as for a vast majority of Southee’s first spell, the only expression was disgust, for he was all over the place - he erred on his line and length and Shaw’s assault gave you the impression that Southee was bowling on a flat Wankhede wicket. He returned figures of 5-1-24-0. 

It took Southee almost a session and 5 overs to get into his stride, but once he did, he was all over India. He used a two-over spell right on the stroke of lunch as a launchpad to get into his rhythm and carve the visitors open, which he eventually did post the interval. The first of the two spells, just after Kohli’s arrival, had nothing but outswingers and with that, he managed to curtail the runs. And that, perhaps, is what accounted for Kohli’s dismissal as the Indian skipper, on his first ball post lunch, was undone by a Southee delivery that nipped back and trapped him in front. From thereon, it was more of the Southee we saw in Wellington as the right-armer, having read the pitch, toyed around with the batsmen. He returned figures of 2-1-1-0 and 5-2-5-2 in the two spells either side of lunch and they ended up swinging the tide around in New Zealand’s favour. 

Tom Blundell passes his litmus test

New Zealand found an unlikely hero in the form of Tom Blundell at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) on Boxing Day a few months ago, but there was always the fear that his ton might be nothing more than a one-off. He was, after all, a makeshift opener and there was also the factor that his knock came at a time when his team had nothing to lose. So unsurprisingly, especially after not having backed his ton up with any score of substance in the next three knocks that followed, there were doubts hovering over the opener’s mettle against a quality bowling attack.

And for a brief while today, none so more than the probing first two overs of Bumrah, it looked like the doubts were going to continue heading into the future - whether he, being a make-shift opener, can cut it at the very top level against the best teams. The right-hander rode his luck in his initial stay at the crease, but grew in confidence with every passing minute and by the time the umpires took the bails out for stumps, ensured that he’d ground down the Indian bowlers whilst also simultaneously enhancing his reputation tenfolds. 

For someone primarily known for his aggression, Blundell’s maturity today - be it where he latched on to the pacers after giving them the first hour or when he completely shunned off Jadeja - showcased a new dimension in his batting. He’s done the hard part and New Zealand, for one, would be hoping for him to make hay when the sun shines on the morning of Day 2.   

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