India must have certainly felt the absence of Venkatesh Prasad on the opening day of the Kanpur Test against New Zealand on Friday. Dropping this genuine paceman and taking in a quality off-spinner in Harbhajan Singh looked quite appealing theoritically.
But the young Harbhajan just could not make much impression. On this day Harbhajan was, at the most, economical but hardly appeared a wicket-taking bowler. Fielding four spinners, including Vijay Bharadwaj, and one paceman in Javagal Srinath with Sourav Ganguly to share the new ball, might turn out to be a successful gamble in a five-day game.
But the first day proceedings did not witness any outstanding work from this rare bowling combination. So New Zealand finished the day at 217 for seven. New Zealand won the toss and chose to bat. It was obvious that it did not want to play the fourth innings of this match that is being played on a 'spinner friendly' pitch. However, on the first day, the spinners were not as devastating as they were expected to be by experts.
Ganguly gave a flying start to India in his new role as a new ball bowler. He had opener Mathew Horne neatly taken by wicket keeper MSK Prasad (1 for 7 in 3.1 overs). Srinath lived up to his reputation as a world class seam and swing bowler. Playing his 40th Test in nine seasons he crossed the 150-mark today. After bowling a beautiful but wicketless first spell, Srinath came on for his second spell and rattled Stephen Fleming's stumps with a swinging yorker and then trapped Mathew Bell leg before with a superb delivery that caught Bell napping.
In between Anil Kumble had dismissed Craig Spearman. And so the score read 50 for four after 25 overs. Will the Indian spinners make the mot of this golden opportunity? -- Was the question at that stage. The Indian bowlers failed to drive home the advantage.
No doubt there were wickets to show at the end a day's labour. But then those who might have entertained hopes of a New Zealand collapse from that 50 for four must have returned home disappointed. Nathan Astle and Craig McMillan performed with grit and determination to add 62 runs for the fifth wicket.
Then there was a ray of hope for India supporters. First Joshi sent back McMillan and then Srinath, in his third spell, trapped Astle leg before.