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Player of the Match
Player of the Match

India fight back with late strikes, but New Zealand ahead

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Williamson, Taylor propel New Zealand into the lead on day two (2:06)

Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor's 93-run partnership helped New Zealand go ahead. Watch New Zealand-India on ESPN+ (2:06)

New Zealand 216 for 5 (Williamson 89, Taylor 44, Sharma 3-31) lead India 165 (Rahane 46, Jamieson 4-39, Southee 4-49) by 51 runs

Ishant Sharma's persistence kept India in the contest but New Zealand remained ahead in the Basin Reserve Test after they took India's last five wickets for 43 runs on day two, and finished with a 51-run lead with five wickets of their own in hand. Kane Williamson was the only half-centurion in the match after Tim Southee's early strikes did the damage in the morning. But India kept scrapping, taking three late wickets after the hosts had gone into the lead with only two wickets lost.

What will encourage India is that this didn't appear to be a typical New Zealand pitch, which begins to lose life after the first day. There was evidence of uneven bounce deep into day two, and also turn and bounce for R Ashwin, who could be a handful if India can ask New Zealand to chase a decent score in the final innings. India will be reminded of the Bengaluru Test against Australia where they were bundled out cheaply on day one, but Sharma kept them alive with a giant effort with the ball in the first innings before a miraculous recovery in the second dig.

However, at stumps on day two, despite the late reverses, New Zealand held the advantage after a phenomenal morning and afternoon. In bright sunshine on the second morning, Ajinkya Rahane and India had a strange half session of Test cricket. Rahane first ran Rishabh Pant out, and then got out caught at the wicket when leaving the ball. Bowling into the wind, Southee complemented Kyle Jamieson's good work on day one with three wickets in the morning session.

In the fourth over of the day, Rahane looked for a typical quick single after hitting to point. It should have been Pant's call, but Rahane kept on running, which meant the lesser batsmen of the two had to risk his wicket by running as well. Unfortunately for Pant, Ajaz Patel's shy from point hit the only stump visible just about hard enough to nudge the bail off. One will do well to cut Rahane some slack: this was the first time he was ever involved in a run-out in Test cricket.

The next ball was a perfect outswinger from Southee, hitting that same stump to send R Ashwin back. This was a repeat of the Prithvi Shaw dismissal; neither of these batsmen likes a big front-foot movement.

Rahane had been serene in defence on the first day, often presenting a dead bat and playing the ball late, but now he had to open up a little since he had the tail for company. A top edge off Trent Boult fell just short of fine leg before Southee went wide on the crease to create confusion. Rahane knew he had to cover for the scrambled-seam inswinger too, which meant he was late in withdrawing the bat as he left an outswinger alone. It was enough for the ball to kiss the inside edge and dismiss Rahane four short of a fifty.

Mohammed Shami went on to frustrate Southee for a bit, but in the end the last two were split by Jamieson and Southee on either side of the drinks break.

When New Zealand came out to bat, India either realised the ball was not swinging enough or they were still stuck with the lengths they bowl elsewhere. In New Zealand, you have to get around the 5-metre mark - as the New Zealand quicks did - but India struggled to hit that spot. The one time that Sharma did that, he ended a threatening partnership between Kane Williamson and Tom Blundell by cleaning up the latter with slight late swing. Or perhaps it was movement off the seam.

Sharma's first wicket was not that much skill or accuracy, but just a strangle down the leg side to send Tom Latham back. That was a break India badly needed as 10 overs had already gone by without a breakthrough. Had he had some more luck, his first ball to Williamson might have lobbed up for a catch. Instead this short ball only managed to hurt his right-hand's middle finger, for which he kept getting attention through the second session.

And yet, apart from Sharma, the two other bowlers kept allowing Williamson and Blundell to keep going back and either punch or tuck balls away for runs. Blundell was good at picking the short ball early and pulling it disdainfully while Williamson went about building his innings peacefully. He had to be mindful of the spongy bounce, but 27 balls into his innings, when Jasprit Bumrah bowled yet another delivery short of a length, the New Zealand captain showed he was in. In that over he played both his trademark shots four boundaries: the back-foot punch and the punchy drive off the front foot.

Sharma managed to end that menacing stand with New Zealand still 92 behind. Ashwin found lovely drift and some quick turn, but not enough to dismiss either of the two mainstays of New Zealand. Taylor slog-swept him for a six, and Williamson kept scoring evenly off the others. As the partnership grew menacing, India looked to Sharma again. He produced an unplayable delivery that reared off a length to take Taylor's glove.

With that wicket, India began to tighten the screws. Bumrah came back for an impressive spell. Ashwin tied the left-hand batsman Henry Nicholls down. The run rate, which had crossed three just before tea, came back under the mark in the 61st over. And Shami then produced a ball that stopped on a driving Williamson - the resulting mis-hit became a low catch to the substitute fielder Ravindra Jadeja. Ashwin then produced a beauty for Nicholls: an offbreak that drifted to open him up, and then turned and bounced to take the edge.

As soon as Aswin was taken off, though, the umpires took the teams off for bad light, bringing into focus the late starts specifically for this series presumably to suit the TV viewership in India. Thanks to bad light and slow over rates, 11 overs of play was lost on day two.