WELLINGTON: Ishant Sharma exploited the seaming conditions brilliantly to return with a career-best 6/51 as India took early control of the second and final Test by skittling out New Zealand for a paltry 192 in the first innings on Friday.
Sharma justified captain MS Dhoni’s decision to bowl first on a greentop as the lanky pacer kept the host batsmen on their toes with his testing line and length.
Rising pacer Mohammed Shami (4/70) also contributed in India’s dominating performance show on Day One as he picked up key wickets of Kane Williamson (47) and debutant James Neesham (33) at crucial junctures.
Opener Shikhar Dhawan then hit an attacking unbeaten half-century as India reached 100/2 at close, still trailing by 92 runs at the Basin Reserve.
Dhawan (71) and night-watchman Sharma (3) were at the crease after the visitors lost the wickets of opener Murali Vijay (2) and Cheteshwar Pujara (19).
Sharma continued with his splendid show from the first Test as he claimed his second five-wicket haul of the series and fifth overall in his 55th Test.
Sharma took three wickets in the first four overs of his morning spell and that laid the foundation for India’s hugely successful day when they are hoping to level the series.
While experienced speedster Zaheer Khan hit probing lengths immediately, Shami was still in the same mode as at Eden Park, bowling a tad short and looking for bounce from the wicket than movement in the air. However, he was negotiated easily by the batsmen as the Kiwi openers took 14 runs off his first three overs.
It meant that Sharma was introduced into the attack as early as the eighth over and thereon, went on to bowl unchanged for nine overs, turning the morning session India’s way.
Hamish Rutherford (12) was unable to keep down a well-aimed short ball and was caught by Vijay at first slip. Two overs later, Sharma bowled an inswinger that hit Peter Fulton (13) on his pads and was trapped LBW, resulting in another poor start for the Kiwis.
In his third over of the morning then, the bowler continued his good work and made debutant Tom Latham’s day a bad one, dismissing him for a duck in his first Test innings.
Latham’s fall brought Auckland’s double-centurion Brendon McCullum to the crease and together with the in-form Kane Williamson, he avoided further damage for nine overs but only put on 19 runs for the fourth wicket, when Shami returned and bowled a much improved fuller length in his second spell.
It earned him just reward, as McCullum (8) played a loose shot and was caught by Jadeja at mid-off.
As the morning turned out to be an uncomfortable one for their hosts, India could have had another wicket in the last over before lunch, when Williamson was caught by Dhoni off Zaheer in the 26th over. But it was a no-ball and the batsman, who had survived a close LBW shout off Sharma in the 24th over, was again lucky.
In the post-lunch session, Williamson and Corey Anderson started at 51/4 with the two batsmen looking to control the damage done in the first session.
The latter looked to hit out and counter attack the bowling, in a bid to drive back the Indian bowlers who were looking very menacing. He hit three fours and one six in this bid, but couldn’t last long enough to sustain the innings.
He was snapped up by Sharma, the hero of the day, in the 34th over of the innings. Anderson made 24 runs before an inside edge ballooned off his pad and went straight to Virat Kohli at gully, adding 39 valuable runs with Williamson, who was again lucky having survived twice before lunch.
Sharma took his fifth wicket in the 36th over, dismissing BJ Watling for a duck. The batsman was caught in the slips by Rohit Sharma. He should have had a sixth in the same over, but Williamson was again caught off a no-ball.
The batsman, who got lives on 15 and 23 runs, then cut loose and hit five more boundaries as he put on 47 runs with James Neesham, with the hosts’ hundred coming up in the 39th over.
Four overs later, Shami got the vital breakthrough, with Rohit again getting into the act at second slip, as Williamson couldn’t survive this time. He faced 100 balls, and hitting six boundaries in all.
Neesham scored 33 runs on his debut to help his side cross the 150-run mark in the 46th over. But in the very next, Shami snapped him up as well, with the batsman edging behind to MS Dhoni.
Starting the post-tea session at 166/8, Tim Southee threw his bat around in search of quick runs and hit three sixes, as he raced to run-a-ball 32, hitting one four as well.
He became Sharma’s sixth victim in the 52nd over, a soft catch to Vijay at mid-wicket. Shami on the other end accounted for last-man Trent Boult (2), bringing the innings to a close in the fourth over after tea. Neil Wagner (5) was the unbeaten batsman.
In India’s reply, Dhawan reached his half-century in the 22nd over of the innings, hitting 10 fours and one six overall, as he put up 87 runs for the second wicket with Pujara.
Pujara had come out to bat early, since Vijay was dismissed in the second over of the day by Tim Southee (1/20). Trent Boult (1/18) trapped Pujara LBW some 20 minutes before stumps.
Neil Wagner (0/36), Corey Anderson (0/14) and James Neesham (0/8) went wicketless, as Ishant Sharma came out as the night-watchman, and saw off some hostile bowling to remain unbeaten, signing off the day to India.