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The Indian cricket season, kicked off in full earnest today with the first Test against the visiting Kiwis on a slow deck in Hyderabad. Batting first on winning the toss, India rocketed off to a lightning start with Virender Sehwag scoring a crisp 47 before a mini-collapse put India on the backfoot at 125-3. However, an excellent unbeaten century from rookie Cheteshwar Pujara (119*), and his 125 run fourth wicket stand with Virat Kohli (58) put India on the road to recovery with the hosts just about getting the better of an opening day which ended with the score at 307-5.
The recent retirements of Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman meant that there were two spots up for grabs in the Indian batting order with Cheteshwar Pujara and Suresh Raina getting the nod as expected. The Indian bowling unit included two spinners in Ravichandran Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha, alonside seamers Zaheer Khan and young Umesh Yadav.
New Zealand slightly surprisingly opted to go in with just the one specialist spinner in Jeetan Patel, though they do have an excellent back-up option in Kane Williamson, who was certain to get his fair share of overs. It was instead a three-and-a-half pronged pace attack from the Kiwis with Chris Martin and Trent Boult being given charge of the new ball while Doug Bracewell and now batting allrounder James Franklin there to provide support.
Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag got India off to a typical flying start with the duo adding 49 for the first wicket in 10 overs before the former fell for 22, caught behind off Boult. It was a poor shot from Gambhir, whose Test form has deteriorated rapidly off late, and he was once again fishing outside the off-stump and opening the face of the blade to a ball he could have left well alone.
At the other end, Sehwag continue to motor along without a care in the world, though he did have his share of luck with an inside edge going for four, and an outside edge going between the keeper and first slip with both men staring at the other. Sehwag's luck though ran out when he was on 47, caught at second slip while attempting to cut a ball that was far too close to him, Martin Guptill taking a sharp catch. It was a typical Sehwag innings with the runs coming at better than a run a ball, but India really needed him to operate a bit more in Test match mode and make the start count.
Cheteshwar Pujara and Sachin Tendulkar with 191 test matches distributed rather unevenly between them came together with the score at 77-2, and restored sanity to proceedings. The duo added 20 runs before lunch and made their way into double digits, setting the scene for what was an exciting second session.
Tendulkar and Pujara built a steady partnership with the former finding his touch out in the middle after a long gap, while the latter was looking like he was built for test cricket. Their partnership had grown to 48 before a hush descended on Hyderabad with Trent Bould removing Tendulkar with a gorgeous inswinger for 19. Boult had bowled an excellent over to the Little Master, who had been fortunate to survive a delivery before when a thin inside edge rescued him with the ball from the left-armer jagging back towards his pads. However, Boult struck on his very next delivery to comprehensively bowl Tendulkar, uprooting his middle stump.
Tendulkar's dismissal brought the new poster boy of Indian cricket Virat Kohli to the crease, and the youngster continued his stellar run this year, cruising to 32 by Tea time. Pujara meanwhile continued to graft for his runs, and brought up a solid half-century, getting to the landmark off 119 deliveries. India were looking good at 182-3 when the players headed into the pavilion for a cup of tea.
The runs came at a fair clip for India right after the tea break as did the let-offs. Jeetan Patel was unfortunate not to have dismissed both set batsmen with Daniel Flynn missing a half-chance at forward short-leg when Pujara was on 60 before Virat Kohli was gifted a life by Ross Taylor in the slips. Taylor missed the ball completely and it went for a boundary, thus bringing up Kohli's half-century off 79 balls.
Pujara raced into the 80s with an almighty pull for six over wide long-on off part-timer Kane Williamson, showing he was far from a one-dimensional player.
At the other end, Kohli's innings was brought to a surprise halt for 58 by New Zealand's pace spearhead Chris Martin, with an outside edge from the young Indian superstar being gobbled up at second slip by Guptill.
Suresh Raina, who had got a pair in his last Test innings in England, walked out at no.6 in what was without a doubt the most important innings of his fledgling test career. He got off the mark straight away, bringing an impatient Pujara on strike which the youngster, now on 95, had been deprived off for nearly 3 overs. A boundary off Martin took Pujara to 99 as the excitement in Hyderabad rose to celebrate India's new no.3.
And in the next over, Pujara reached the milestone, an excellent achievement, especially considering the quality of the shoes that he has been asked to fill. Amazingly, Pujara's second fifty had come at a run a ball.
Raina's stay in the middle didn't last too long though, the left-hander falling for 3 to Jeetan Patel, caught down the leg-side off a nothing delivery. Patel was unlucky not to get MS Dhoni as well in the same over, with his flashing cut put down by Ross Taylor, who missed his third catch of the day.
Dhoni though soon got into his element, and took advantage of the two spinners operating in tandem before the second new ball became available. India quickly made their way to 287-5 in 80 overs and New Zealand took the new ball immediately in an attempt to land some late blows in an effort to win the day.
India though survived a tricky seven over period before time was called on the first day's play, at the end of which the hosts had progressed to 307-5 with Pujara unbeaten on 119 with Dhoni keeping him company on 29.
India: G Gambhir, V Sehwag, C Pujara, S Tendulkar, V Kohli, S Raina, MS Dhoni (c & wk), R Ashwin, Z Khan, P Ojha, U Yadav
New Zealand: MJ Guptill, BB McCullum, DR Flynn, LRPL Taylor (c), KS Williamson, JEC Franklin, CFK van Wyk (wk), DAJ Bracewell, JS Patel, CS Martin, TA Boult
India 307-5 (87 overs)
V Kohli 58 (107) D Bracwell 1-53
C Pujara 119* (226) T Boult 2-63
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