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Hanuma Vihari 101, Cheteshwar Pujara 93 rescue India after openers fail

ESPNcricinfo logo ESPNcricinfo 4 days ago Karthik Krishnaswamy

68 overs Indians 217 for 4 (Pujara 87*, Vihari 85*, Kuggeleijn 3-40) v New Zealand XI

Prithvi Shaw of India © Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images Prithvi Shaw of India

Prithvi Shaw, Mayank Agarwal, Shubman Gill. On a green Seddon Park pitch that offered the new ball steep, tennis-ball bounce, Scott Kuggeleijn took just 3.2 overs to rip out the three contenders to open for India in the first Test in Wellington next week.

From 5 for 3, which became 38 for 4, the Indians recovered courtesy an unbroken stand of 179 between Cheteshwar Pujara and Hanuma Vihari, and were 217 for 4 at the drinks break midway through the final session. Both saw off the early discomfort before bedding in against the older ball, on a pitch that flattened out once it lost its early moisture.

It was far trickier to bat on at the start, however, and it may be harsh to read too much into the scores of 0, 1 and 0 against the names of the three opening candidates.

Also watch: Opening the innings isn't new to me, says Shubman Gill

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Four balls after the two teams agreed to let the Indians bat first, Shaw was out for a duck, caught at short leg, fending one that rose unexpectedly towards his throat from short of a length. In Kuggeleijn's fourth over - the seventh of the Indians' innings - Agarwal fell for one that left him outside off stump, and edged behind to Dane Cleaver.

On the eve of this match, Gill had spoken about the need for India to ensure New Zealand don't take too many wickets with the short ball in the Tests. A short ball sent him on his way here, though it was a hard one to negotiate, climbing awkwardly in the fourth-stump channel. Gill, who had made 83, 204* and 136 in his last three innings, was out first ball, opening up and fending to gully. 

The ball continued to nip around for the next half hour or so, and seam movement consumed Ajinkya Rahane, caught at slip off James Neesham, after he had looked reasonably solid in a 33-run fourth-wicket stand with Pujara. 

Rahane had been drawn into playing away from his body; it was an error Pujara avoided right through the early part of his innings. He let the ball come to him, leaving vigilantly outside his off stump and scoring the bulk of his runs via leg-side clips and nudges. He hit only one four in his first 80 balls, a pull off Daryl Mitchell, though this was partly down to a slow outfield. And there were virtually no scoring shots in front of the wicket on the off side until he drove Mitchell to the cover boundary in the second over after lunch. It was, in short, typical Pujara.

Just as typically, he feasted on spin almost as soon as it made an appearance. Ish Sodhi dropped short on multiple occasions, and Pujara pulled him all over the leg side, including once for six over backward square, and once nearly for six over midwicket, only for Henry Cooper to keep it from going over the rope with a goalkeeper-style dive.

Vihari was just as dismissive against spin, driving and late-cutting Sodhi even when he was marginally off his length, and jumping out to hit the left-arm spin of Rachin Ravindra for three straight sixes. The most impressive feature of his batting, though, was how assured he looked against pace. There was an elegant minimalism to his footwork: he often seemed not to move at all, only to somehow be in the perfect place to defend right under his eyes. Anything pitched up to drive was put away through the covers or mid-on, and the shortish ball giving him a hint of width punched on the up through cover point.

At the end of the day's play, Vihari said he and Pujara had decided to avoid horizontal-bat shots off the quicks, considering the steep bounce on offer. Vihari got away with a top-edged cut soon after tea, but Pujara wasn't as lucky when he miscued a hook off Jake Gibson when he was eight runs short of his century.

The innings, thereafter, came to a swift finish, with the lack of context around the match and the impending close of play - with no allowance for an extension post 6pm - leading to a slew of soft dismissals.

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