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The Agarkar column: First-innings failures cost India dear

Monday, 10 February 2014 - 6:00am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: dna

Ajit Agarkar | ALL-ROUND VIEW

If nothing, the first Test between New Zealand and India proved beyond reasonable doubt that the longest format of the game is alive and kicking. Naturally, it was disappointing to see India fall 40 runs short of a famous win. A little bit of caution here and some decent umpiring there would have helped MS Dhoni & Co. make headlines. But instead, the fact that stares us in the face is this: India have now lost 10 of their last 11 Tests on foreign soil. Sad but true.

The turning point of the fourth day's play at Eden Park was Virat Kohli's dismissal. Arguably the world's premier batsman today, Kohli did not put a foot wrong all day. I wonder what prompted him to employ the pull shot to a ball bowled outside the off stump. He should have gone for the cut or, even better, let it go. Instead, he ended up bottom-edging it to wicketkeeper Bradley-John Watling, who took a whopping six catches in the innings. Not only did Neil Wagner end the defining 126-run partnership between Kohli and centurion Shikhar Dhawan, he also went on to complete a match-winning haul of 4/62.

Wagner was on wheels. A lion-hearted bowler, the left-armer also dismissed Dhawan with the old ball before delivering the knockout punch by dismissing Zaheer Khan and MS Dhoni during a hostile spell of 10 overs with the new ball. He was running in from everywhere: over and round the sticks and dishing out all sorts of deliveries. In the end, it was his aggressive approach that stopped India in their tracks.

At 248/4, India were very much in it. Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane had already added 20 runs when umpire Steve Davis committed a howler. I wonder how he failed to spot the inside edge. But that's how it is: you win some, you lose some. Rahane was out leg-before off Trent Boult. It was the first delivery with the second new ball. When play resumed after tea, India needed 137 runs with five wickets in hand. A beautiful outswinger from Tim Southee did Sharma in.

What followed was a counterattack of the highest order. Both Dhoni and Ravindra Jadeja know they aren't the best of technicians. And that's why they took the attack to the Kiwis by playing extravagant shots. The ploy worked, but only just. That's high-risk batting for you. Should they have 'cooled down' a bit? Well, there are no ifs and buts in cricket. One thing led to another and Jadeja, Khan and Dhoni fell in the space of nine overs. Ishant Sharma's dismissal sealed the deal in New Zealand's favour.

The biggest positive of the day was Dhawan. I am glad he answered his critics, even though no cricketer plays with that intention. The good thing was that he wanted to grind it out. That's not his natural game. But the fact is that Dhawan changed his game to suit the team's requirement. He could have easily swung his bat around. But he played according to the situation.

All in all, India must be kicking themselves for losing the Test. Sunday's mini-collapse notwithstanding, I firmly believe it all went wrong on Days One and Two. India had no business to concede 503 in the first innings. And they certainly could have posted more than 202. You can't really expect yourself to win a Test match after conceding a 301-run lead. India came close, but the mistakes they committed in the first-innings caught up with them.

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