The story was expected to be much the same as in Wellington, probably meaner than was the scoreboard reflected, when the camera strolled over the creamy green-topped track at the Hagley Oval after rain had delayed the start by 45 minutes. And then the coin had deceived Virat Kohli once again as Kane Williamson opted to bowl first. In August of 2018, India had walked in at Lord's after the rain had interrupted the proceedings in the second Test. After just two sessions of play on day 2, India were bundled for just 107 as the English pace attack made most of the seaming conditions, exposing India's inability to handle swing. Such was expected on Saturday morning as openers Prithvi Shaw and Mayank Agarwal walked in to bat. Little less than six hours later, India walked back for 242 despite three half-century scores.
Batting surely wasn't easy on that spicy track, but the dismissals of the three half-centurions were more about profligacy than New Zealand's bowling, while the remaining batters just threw their chances as India were restricted to total miles away from the kind of start and the 81-run fifth-wicket partnership had generated.
Kohli's disappointment at losing yet another toss was eased by Prithvi's promising start. Learning from his Wellington mistakes, just like the skipper had expected him to, Prithvi got off the mark with the improved footwork that allowed him to read the swing movement and display his natural game. Mixing back foot and front foot movement against the constant change in length from Tim Southee, Prithvi brought about the flamboyance in his strokeplay. Against the length balls outside off deliveries, Shaw drove it elegantly through covers. For the ones slight short of good length, he rocked back to punch it towards backward point fence. And against the fuller deliveries, he put forth some gorgeous straight drives.
Back in Wellington, Prithvi showed limited footwork that allowed Southee to set him up with his usual outswinger around off, before Trent Boult exposed his problem against bounce in the second innings. Prithvi looked more confident with his improved techniques against both the varieties as he brought up his second half-century en route to his 64-ball 54. Such was his confidence that he had brought up his fifty with a six against the short ball down the leg side from Neil Wagner, his first delivery in the innings. But departed shortly after when he chased the wider and fuller delivery from Kyle Jamieson before Tom Latham's acrobatic catch assured New Zealand of the wicket.
That dismissal came before lunch. An hour before, Boult had had cleverly set up Mayank by simultaneous deliveries of in and outswingers. Prithvi's aggressive approach since the early dismissal, leaving even Colin de Grandhomme quite, helped India win the first session. Cheteshwar Pujara remained quiet at the other end barring the aggressive slice over point in his 13th delivery, allowing the youngster to flourish before he was joined by Kohli before lunch.
Two new batters at crease and Kane went back to Southee and Boult. The right-hand pacer teased Kohli down the outside-off channel in the two overs he bowled before lunch. Following the break, he changed his line to around off while going with his usual outswinger and Kohli was undone. Had it been to Pujara, there would have been an inside edge, it was that good a delivery. Kohli had his head over off and his bat looking to guide it to mid-on, but the ball swung past and struck plumb on his pads.
Moments later, India lost another, Ajinkya Rahane, the one who looked most settled in the batting lineup in Wellington. He had looked solid with his defense and played the ball late. Even Kohli had praised his deputy after the defeat last week. But a mental error, just like Kohli, and Rahane walked back scoring just seven. The same outswinger, luring the batsman forward and committing him to a forward push before ball deceives him to take the outside edge and carry to the fielder at slip.
Pujara had by then settled and had begun to time his drives while Hanuma Vihari joined him in the middle. After the initial struggle that two batted freely and showed urgency and purpose, dominating against Boult and de Grandhomme, hence urging Kane to call back Wagner who had by then just bowled seven overs in the match. The short deliveries and knuckleballs in his opening spell helped Wagner conceded just eight runs. However, Vihari decided to attack Wagner in his fresh spell. He pulled one away to the fine leg fence for four in the 52nd over and in the 54th, he made room to slash one over gully region for a boundary and the slower and fuller one through long-off. But as usual, Wagner had the last laugh as Vihari ended up nicking another short ball to the wicketkeeper.
Pujara then held key as India returned from Tea break, but threw his wicket away in the most inexplicable manner. Against a short and wide delivery from Jamieson, Pujara unnecessarily went for the hook shot and ended up top-edging it to the wicketkeeper. And in a space of just a few deliveries on either side of lunch, India had lost two of the most important wickets which would have safely guided them to 300 in Christchurch.
At the other end, Rishabh Pant was left anxious after BJ Watling had dropped him twice against de Grandhomme, and it was clearly evident from his manner of dismissal by Jamieson. A needless chase against the wider ball from the 6'8'' bowler and Pant leaned forwards and ended up getting a thick inside edge to guide the ball towards the leg stump.
With that, the remaining three dismissals were written on the wall. Jamieson completed his five-wicket haul as India were wrapped up for just 242.
"They bowled in good areas and knew what to expect from this track. Prithvi set the tone, Pujara spent time. All dismissals happened at the wrong time. None of the dismissals were because of the pitch. Mostly it was because of batsmen's error. Pitch was fair," Vihari admitted after the day's play.