Captain Brendon McCullum leads by example
Brendon McCullum's critics emerge faster than the flip of a coin but last night they struggled for traction.
New Zealand's captain ended a rollicking opening day of the first cricket test against India weary but unbowed as the hosts approach an unbeatable position at Eden Park. The skipper (143 not out) and Corey Anderson (42 not out) will put the foot down this morning towards 500-plus, as New Zealand resume on 329-4 after being sent in.
McCullum's coin-flipping technique needs serious work but his fighting spirit to boost New Zealand up the world cricket ranks isn't in question. His eighth test century ended a lean recent trot, since his day one ton against West Indies in Dunedin in December 3. Successive ducks in the India ODI series only increased the murmurs and the skipper was the longest toiler in the nets in recent days.
"He batted fantastically. What was more impressive was his 40-odd runs after his hundred which was very ruthless and great to see; a good lesson for all of us," said Kane Williamson, whose own sublime 113 helped his skipper add 221 for the fourth wicket and extricate the hosts from strife.
"What's important with Brendon is he's the captain and the way he has led the team has been fantastic. You look at your runs but he offers so much in other areas. Perhaps it's a bit of icing for him after the great performances in the one-dayers through his captaincy."
With runs to play with, McCullum can attack from ball one when Trent Boult and Tim Southee clutch the new ball later today. The pitch is flattening out after a spicy first session, and swing will be the big key for New Zealand's bowlers.
Again, New Zealand are set to top 400 in their first innings, a recent hallmark of their improved test showings. That total looked a lifetime away on a gloomy Auckland morning with the hard drop-in pitch a brighter shade of emerald.
It was a toss both captains desperately wanted to win, but soon became an excellent one for New Zealand to lose, after MS Dhoni called correctly for a sixth successive match.
It was the torrid opening session test cricket should be about, and both openers struggled as the ball nipped around.
Peter Fulton was trapped in front by a sub-130kmh offering from the ageing Zaheer Khan; Hamish Rutherford was strong on the drive but still too loose and was startled by a lifter from a rejuvenated Ishant Sharma. Fulton is on thinner ice than Rutherford, but both desperately need runs in three more innings this series to avoid some awkward selection discussions for the West Indies tour.
After Ross Taylor scratched about and departed, India had the test by the scruff of the neck at 30-3. Sharma was dropped during the ODI series but the grassy, bouncy pitch got the spring back in his legs. Mohammed Shami was lively at 140kmh, and unlucky as he extracted tricky seam and bounce.
It all changed after lunch as the sun emerged. Inevitably the drop-in would get better for batting, it was just a matter of how soon. India released the pressure when Dhoni threw the ball to part-timer Virat Kohli.
Williamson's golden summer continued after five successive ODI half-centuries, and he stayed composed as McCullum looked edgy and went hard at the ball early on. There was a big let-off for Williamson on 32 when Shami found the edge and Murali Vijay dropped a regulation knee-high chance at first slip.
It summed up India's flagging fortunes as they continued to pitch short but Williamson never gave the bowlers another chance as he reached his fifth test century.
McCullum grew in confidence, punishing anything short through the off side, and Williamson unfurled the occasional vicious hook, two of which flew for six.
The pair reached three figures in successive Ravindra Jadeja overs. McCullum was typically spectacular, lofting the spinner over long off, and Williamson pushing through extra cover to reach his ton in 138 balls, three more than it took his skipper. The match-turning stand only ended with Williamson was strangled down the leg side.