Kolkata: Batsman Rohit Sharma’s dominant half-century put India firmly in command of the second Test against New Zealand as the hosts stretched their lead to 339 on the third day in Kolkata on Sunday.
India were 227 for eight at stumps in their second innings with Wriddhiman Saha on 39 and Bhuvneshwar Kumar on eight at the crease. New Zealand bowlers Matt Henry and Mitchell Santner took three wickets each.
Sharma, who scored 82, put on 103 runs for the seventh wicket with Saha to get their second innings back on track after the New Zealand seamers rattled the Indian top-order with regular wickets.
Fast bowlers Henry and Trent Boult shared five wickets between them to strike back on the two-paced pitch after the visitors conceded a 112-run lead.
“I think over the last two days, you may have seen the wicket that it’s not a typical Kolkata wicket. They have relaid the surface and you may seen uneven bounces occasionally,” Sharma told reporters.
“The conditions were not easy… you can’t relax.”
Henry, who had returned with figures of 3-46 in the first innings, sent opener Murali Vijay (4) and Cheteshwar Pujara walking back to the pavilion soon after the lunch break.
Henry trapped Pujara lbw for 7 on a pacy in-cutter that hit the outside of the batsman’s front pad, but TV replays suggested that the ball might have missed the leg stump.
Boult joined forces to get Shikhar Dhawan, who got a nasty blow on his thumb early on in the innings against the left-handed pacer, trapped lbw for 17.
Boult’s big wicket was that of India skipper Virat Kohli, who struck a purposeful 45 to lift India from 43/4. The star batsman was trapped lbw.
Kohli’s departure once again raised New Zealand’s hopes of a fightback but Sharma made sure the hosts kept up the good work of stretching their lead further.
Sharma tackled the New Zealand bowling with aplomb as the middle-order batsman struck 9 fours and 2 sixes during his 132-ball stay at the crease.
– India’s batting depth -Sharma got good support from number-eight Saha, who scored an unbeaten 54 in the first innings, as the batting duo entertained the raucous home crowd at Kolkata’s Eden Gardens.
“That depth gives you a leverage to play your shots and be aggressive and more expressive,” Sharma said while talking about India’s lower-order batting strength.
Santner’s left-arm spin finally got through Sharma’s defenses after the batsman was caught behind to Luke Ronchi, who kept wickets in place of BJ Watling.
Saha and Kumar then played through the final few overs in fading light until the umpires called it a day.
“I think anything that is set, is definitely achievable,” said Boult about the New Zealand squad’s mindset.
“We got to take small steps at a time. If we can set small goals of batting for half a session and then a session.”
Earlier Indian pacers Kumar and Mohammed Shami helped bowl out New Zealand for 204 in response to India’s first innings score of 316.
Overnight batsmen Jeetan Patel, who top-scored with 47, and Watling put together a fighting 60-run eight-wicket stand before the Indian bowlers struck back.
“He did very well… all 11 of us can take a leaf out of his book and apply ourselves like he did because they were valuable runs,” Boult said of Patel’s defiant knock.
Kumar (5-48) and Shami (3-70) shared eight wickets between them to hand over the advantage to India, who won the first Test in Kanpur to go 1-0 up in the three-match series.