McIntosh guides Kiwi flight

Opener scores second Test hundred to steer New Zealand to 258 for four

McIntosh guides Kiwi flight

Until his late dismissal to the second new ball, the left-handed opener assiduously held the New Zealand batting together, the cornerstone around which the visitors methodically built their first innings on day one of the second Test.

A pair on a flat Motera strip had put the 30-year-old under immense pressure, necessitating him to show the spirit and spunk that had characterised the visitors’ performance in the first Test. At the Rajiv Gandhi International stadium in Uppal on Friday, McIntosh met the challenge manfully with a typical, old-fashioned opener’s approach that steered the Kiwis to a first-day tally of 258 for four. His hundred was the first by a New Zealand opener since Stephen Fleming scored a ton in England in 2004.

A fair-sized crowd on the first day of Test cricket at this venue might not necessarily have enjoyed the manner in which McIntosh (376m, 254b, 10x4, 1x6) constructed his essay, but the significance of his compilation was not lost on anyone. Harbhajan Singh was the first to congratulate the opener on reaching three-figures, putting aside the disappointment of another unpenetrative spell on a track that offered more assistance than the sleeping beauty in Ahmedabad.

There was a lot more bounce and a little more pace than in the first Test, and India began the Test promisingly enough after Daniel Vettori chose to bat. As the day wore on, however, the bowling tended to border on the lacklustre. Indeed, had it not been for Zaheer Khan’s late strike to evict the centurion, this would have New Zealand’s day out and out.

And to think that it didn’t take the hosts long past the quarter-hour mark to make the first impression! S Sreesanth was in his elements, the ball leaving his hand beautifully, the bolt upright seam – evoking memories of his wondrous spell at the Wanderers against South Africa four years back – and pronounced swing making him hugely dangerous.

Sreesanth drew first blood by getting rid of the dangerous Brendon McCullum with a delivery just short of a length that forced the batsman on to the back foot, shaped away and found the outside edge. A few minutes later, he drew Martin Guptill forward with one pitched fuller up and moving away, catching the edge again for Mahendra Singh Dhoni to pouch another regulation edge.

It ought to have been 22 for two. Instead, after having ruled the batsman out, Kumar Dharmasena had doubts about the legality of the delivery and checked with third umpire Amiesh Saheba. Sreesanth had indeed overstepped, Guptill (85, 203b, 160b, 9x4, 1x6) returned to the batting crease with a wry smile, and made India pay with a positive, entertaining innings marked by fluent driving.

Guptill’s greater experience won him the nod ahead of BJ Watling, and the right-hander repaid that faith entirely. Unfazed by the out that wasn’t, or by being put down by Dhoni off Harbhajan when only 11, he kept coming hard at the Indians even as McIntosh held his end up, primarily stonewalling and only seldom coming out of his shell.

The partnership of contrasts was precisely what New Zealand needed to recover from four for one; Sreesanth went off the boil after a brilliant first spell that should have read better than 5-0-14-1, while Harbhajan and Pragyan Ojha didn’t make the most of the turn and bounce that the strip provided, even if not at any great pace.

Guptill’s flurry of boundaries in the period after lunch, once consolidation had been secured, rattled India when, against the run of play, Ojha forced him to play across the line and against the non-existent turn to end a stand of 147 (203m, 282b).

Instead of moving in for the kill, Dhoni allowed McIntosh and new man Ross Taylor the luxury of facing Suresh Raina’s part-time off-spin. The former dramatically upped his rate of scoring, using his feet nicely and unafraid to hit in the air.

The hint of reverse swing Zaheer procured, together with Taylor’s propensity to drop concentration, brought India a gift. The second new ball then accounted for McIntosh, bowled off the inside edge to give the hosts some joy at the end of a long day, but no prizes for guessing who was the day’s hero.

Score Board
NEW ZEALAND (I Innings):
McIntosh b Zaheer    102
(376m, 254b, 10x4, 1x6)
McCullum c Dhoni b Sreesanth    4
(17m, 8b, 1x4)
Guptill lbw Ojha    85
(203m, 160b, 9x4, 1x6)
Taylor c Dhoni b Zaheer    24
(67m, 53b, 1x4)
Ryder (batting)    22
(96m, 64b, 3x4)
Hopkins (batting)    0
(9m, 5b)
Extras (B-1, LB-15, W-1, NB-4)    21
Total (for 4 wkts, 90 overs)    258
Fall of wickets: 1-4 (McCullum), 2-151 (Guptill), 3-206 (Taylor), 4-253 (McIntosh).
Bowling: Zaheer 18-7-41-2, Sreesanth 15-1-60-1 (w-1, nb-4), Harbhajan 27-6-66-0, Ojha 23-4-60-1, Raina 7-2-15-0.

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