First test at Eden Park shapes as a beauty

TEST TURNAROUND: Tim Southee appeals unsuccessfully for the wicket of Murali Vijay, who was not out on 49 at stumps.
TEST TURNAROUND: Tim Southee appeals unsuccessfully for the wicket of Murali Vijay, who was not out on 49 at stumps.

It's the ugly duckling of cricket stadiums that somehow produces test matches of compelling beauty.

Another Eden Park classic looms today after New Zealand threw away an unbeatable position, generously leaving the door ajar for their visitors in the first test.

Remarkably, India had their noses in front in a tight race at stumps on day three. Chasing a lofty 407 to win, they resume today on 87-1, with run machine Cheteshwar Pujara still there.

They still require a record to get there. But as we've seen, anything can happen with bat or ball in this concrete garden of Eden. Early wickets from the Tim Southee-Trent Boult duo can create momentum, and captain Brendon McCullum desperately needs his key men to produce a big first two hours.

After news broke of the late-night antics of Jesse Ryder and Doug Bracewell on test eve, the madcap moments spilled over to the drop-in pitch. By the time India began their chase, 16 wickets had tumbled for 177 runs in a tick over two sessions.

This was meant to happen on day one, not day three, when test pitches are supposedly at their best for batting. It hardly seemed a minefield, but after overnight rain the ball swung for New Zealand's quicks, then India's looked near unplayable as the hosts folded for 105 in 41.2 overs.

On Friday McCullum was the double-centurion and dominant skipper. Yesterday he was run out in a mix-up with Ross Taylor, and dropped Indian opener Shikhar Dhawan at short cover in Southee's first over.

Captains these days are damned if they do and damned if they don't when it comes to enforcing the follow-on. Leading by 301, McCullum chose to bat again after a magnificent effort by his three pacemen saw India skittled for 202.

It's easy in hindsight, but yesterday it was hard to follow the logic of not unleashing the razor-sharp trio of Southee, Boult and Neil Wagner a second time.

Instead McCullum kept his pacemen in cotton wool, fresh for a final assault with 500-plus runs to play with. That was the plan anyway, until New Zealand were 12-4 in their second innings after a nightmare half-hour before lunch.

India's spearhead Mohammed Shami was near unstoppable in a 10-over opening spell that swung the test's momentum.

New Zealand's test opening headaches aren't going anywhere in a hurry, either.

Peter Fulton and, to a lesser extent Hamish Rutherford, will be batting for their immediate test careers in Wellington. Rutherford was trapped in front first ball by a Shami thunderbolt and Fulton drove uppishly to cover.

India's pacemen hunted in a pack with the veteran Zaheer Khan halting Taylor's promising fightback and the bouncy Ishant Sharma claiming nine wickets for the match. The tourists' fielding was also top notch.

Some nudges from the tailenders saw New Zealand avoid the ignominy of being the first test team to score 500 in the first innings and under 100 in the second.

Still, that will be small mercies compared to the outcry if New Zealand somehow lose the apparently unloseable test.

Fairfax Media