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Matt Henry bowled a brilliant spell in the first session of 2nd Test by scalping both the Indian openers’ wicket © AFP

Nobody takes New Zealand seriously. Absolutely nobody. Nobody ever took them seriously. They were forever the also-rans. They were bowled out for 26 in Test cricket. Bert Sutcliffe, their greatest opening batsman, finished his career before New Zealand won a single Test. You need to attain Zen to leave out Richard Hadlee of an all-time World XI and not feel emotional about the decision. There is no doubt that Martin Crowe was one of the finest brains to have graced the sport. New Zealand have made it to 7 semi-final in 11 World Cups. They had also won the second edition of Champions Trophy.

And yet, nobody ever seems to take New Zealand seriously. There was no hype surrounding the series when the Kiwis arrived in India earlier this month. The faces were unknown. Of course, the Indians recognised Kane Williamson, but that was because his name appears in memes alongside Virat Kohli, Steven Smith, and Joe Root. They also knew Trent Boult and Tim Southee (thanks to World Cup 2015), Ross Taylor (the guy who sticks his tongue out when he scores a hundred), and Martin Guptill (remember the double-hundred?). It is unlikely that most would have heard of BJ Watling, probably the finest contemporary wicketkeeper-batsman.

In other words, New Zealand arrived in India with five faces the average Indian knew, but only barely. One of them, Southee, was ruled out of the series even before it started. Nearly three years back Jimmy Neesham had scored a match-saving 137 not out on Test debut at Wellington against India. He was ruled out of the first, then out of the second. Their bowling attack at Kanpur consisted of Boult and a group of spinners the casual Indian spectator is likely to forget in a month’s time.

Mark Craig was hardly impressive at Kanpur, but he still looked more threatening than Ish Sodhi. But Craig was ruled out as well. The team management decided to drop Sodhi as well. They played three seamers, retaining Neil Wagner and roping in Matt Henry. They also got in Jeetan Patel.

But the batting looked fragile? Should Taylor and Guptill play on despite their woeful forms? Should one of them be replaced by Henry Nicholls? Should Luke Ronchi open? Who will bat with Williamson?

As the speculations kept taking place, Williamson was ruled out too. When Taylor walked out to toss today morning, it seemed New Zealand had taken another step back by falling back on a former captain and not opting to go with Boult or Watling.

Let us summarise the situation for the tourists.

New Zealand were without their captain and main batsman. They had summoned a former captain who was struggling to find form. More pressure was probably the last thing he needed.

Guptill, their star opener, was in terrible form. If Guptill drops down the order tomorrow it will be in favour of Ronchi, their “limited-overs specialist” reserve wicketkeeper who had played a solitary Test before the tour.

They missed Southee, one-half of their new-ball pair.

They missed Neesham, who could have added balance to the side.

Patel, one of their spinners, was an injury replacement. Of course, there was not much option.

And Taylor summed things up by losing the toss. India batted first, just like they did at Kanpur. The strategy was simple: pile up runs and unleash Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja.

Take a moment out to put an Indian team in their shoes: supposed they have lost Kohli; they had to appoint an out-of-form Ajinkya Rahane as captain; Murali Vijay is out of form but they cannot drop him; their best batsman has been Naman Ojha; they do not have Ravichandran Ashwin, one-half of their spin attack; and they missed Ravindra Jadeja, who could have added balance to the side. One of their bowlers was Jayant Yadav, an injury replacement. All this happens overseas — and India lose the toss. Would you predict the Indians to put up a fight?

The odd were heavily stacked up against the men from those little islands they typically draw in the bottom right corner of a world map.

The first bit did not happen: India lost wickets before coming back in the second session, but once again lost quick wickets in the third session. India finished Day One on 239 for 7, about fifty runs less and two wickets more than what they had in mind after Virat Kohli won the toss.

There was a tinge of grass. Taylor attacked with Boult and Henry. Shikhar Dhawan, selected ahead of Gautam Gambhir (“a natural replacement”, as per Kohli), chopped one from Henry on to the stumps. Murali Vijay received a peach from Henry that he had to play at — and poke. And Kohli, trying to slice one away from his body, ended up playing to gully off Boult.

Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane steadied ship. New Zealand did not manage a wicket in the second session. But to their credit, they gave nothing away. They did not let India get away to 250 for 3. They kept holding them back, restricting them, waiting for that one mistake, probing outside off, their three seamers and two spinners, all of them.

Wagner tempted Pujara, who was certainly not new to the situation. Wagner kept bowling on off with Guptill, the best New Zealand fielder, at short cover. It was a cat-and-mouse game where Pujara had to restrain himself from playing a cover-drive off those delicious over-pitched deliveries.

187 for 3, the score read when that happened. Pujara and Rahane had things under control. But New Zealand hoped, for they knew they could punch above their weight; and punch they did.

Eden Gardens and Rohit Sharma have rarely disappointed each other, but this was one of those days. He was probably a tad slow when he tried to flick Jeetan; the ball came quicker than he expected, and that was that. And the patience paid off further when Rahane lost concentration for a moment, played across the line, and was trapped leg-before. India had slipped to 200 for 6.

Had they batted higher in the order, both Ashwin and Wriddhiman Saha might have been able to score those big hundreds. Unfortunately, India have stuck to a four-bowler policy for three Tests now. Ashwin took three boundaries off Santner while Saha lofted Patel into the stands.

The pressure was released, albeit temporarily. Taylor, however, still had a trick up his sleeve: he claimed the second new ball and recalled Boult and Henry, who had done brilliantly in the morning.

It took them four overs: the ball would probably missed leg, but Ashwin was ruled out. India returned disgruntled, Saha on 14, Jadeja in tow, surviving Day One but certainly having been done in by the Kiwis.

Yet again, for what feels like the hundredth time in their history, New Zealand have managed to stamp their authority on a Test when nobody gave them a chance. They are used to it.

Remember the adversities they were up against when they took field today morning? None of that seemed to matter in the end. They emerged on top the way they have done many a time.

New Zealand may still lose the ongoing Test. There is no reason to assume that the day has marked the start of a historic turnaround. But there was evidence that whatever be the case, New Zealand have certainly not embarrassed themselves.

There was not a negative step in their strides today. They have looked at India in their eyes when their shoulders might have dropped in the second session, hoping, hoping for that one break and trying everything possible to break through till they eventually succeeded.

New Zealand cricket has always been the story of a team whose worth was more than the sum of its parts. And on this day at Eden Gardens, even that was an understatement.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Chief Editor at CricketCountry and CricLife. He blogs here and can be followed on Twitter here.)