The young left arm spinner proves yet again he has the potential of becoming one of the finest.
It was a hot, humid day; energy-sapping to say the least. New Zealand’s Mitchell Santner’s face said it all after the end of the first day’s play at the Green Park Stadium in Kanpur. He looked as if he had learnt a full term’s course in a single day and done more than a decent job of it.
The 24-year-old left arm spinner is only eight matches old and he has come to India—one of the toughest countries to tour—as the lead spinner for the Kiwis. He made his Test debut 10 months ago against Australia in the historic day-and-night match. He justified the faith put in him, when, on Thursday, he bowled his heart out to claim three big Indian wickets—K.L. Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara and Rohit Sharma—on another historical day, when India were playing its 500th match. But there were no theatrics, no complaints; he gave a measured response when asked about how hard it was on the first day of the Kanpur Test, bowling on a slow wicket which did not offer much turn. “The heat was something that I got used to after the warm-up games and the training. Pujara, Vijay and Ashwin played really well. They tried to make us pull back the length. I suppose it’s a new experience here. The key was to keep the ball dry. It would affect the spinners and the reverse swing in the later stages of the game. So, we tried keeping our hands as dry as we could.”
The visitors seemed to have done their homework well. Santner did not err much with his line or length and adjusted his pace to force batsmen to make mistakes. Introduced by skipper Kane Williamson in the ninth over of the innings, Santner struck in the very second over of his first spell. Bowling slightly quicker through the air, he forced in-form opener Rahul, who was deep in his crease, to edge the ball to the wicketkeeper. Post lunch, he struck again as he caught Pujara off his own bowling. And, with the second new ball after tea, it was Sharma’s turn to fall, trying to hit Santner over the top.
Talking about the approach and strategy adopted by him and the other bowlers, Santner said, “It depends on the batters and the conditions. If it is turning slow then you have to beat the bat at a reasonable pace. Today, Mark showed bowling at a faster pace is probably good on this surface but the key for a spinner is to mix up the pace as well. It might change later on in the innings, but today definitely that faster pace was more beneficial.”
Santner, who is trying to fill the vacuum left by Daniel Vettori, has taken useful tips from the spin great before coming to India. “Yes, we spoke about putting the ball in the right place over long periods of time and not trying to do much,” said Santner. 'Patience is the key to success for a slow bowler' was what he pursued, and he got the desired results for the same. “If batters use their feet well, then it does take you off your length a little bit, and Vijay and Pujara played really well using their feet. They were able to find gaps while coming down the track. You might pull your length back but then they get right back in the crease and cut as well. You just got to be patient.”