NZ XI vs IND: Birthday boy Agarwal back among runs, Pant too finds form

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Mayank Agarwal found form on his birthday and Rishabh Pant mixed caution with his customary aggression as India’s warm-up fixture against New Zealand XI ended in a draw at Hamilton on Sunday.

The match was called off an hour after lunch with India reaching 252 for four just 48 overs into their second innings.

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Agarwal, who had gone through a wretched period since the second Test against Bangladesh, retired on 81 off 99 balls with 10 fours and three sixes to his name.

To the relief of the Indian team management, Pant played in his customary manner to reach 70 off 65 balls, but also showed discretion when the opposition bowlers were in the midst of a good spell.

There were four sixes — two each off leg-spinner Ish Sodhi and off-spinner Henry Cooper.

While Sodhi was hit down the ground, Cooper was dispatched over extra cover on a couple of occasions. He didn’t curb his aggression though; there were times when he was ready defend against the spinners and also leave some of the deliveries that the Kiwi pacers bowled.

Even though Pant is easily the better batsman compared to his senior Wriddhiman Saha, the innings might have come too late in the day considering that the latter is a better keeper and possibly a more responsible batsman in pressure situations.

The biggest positive to have emerged from the New Zealand second innings is Agarwal’s poor run coming to an end. The Seddon Park track easing out was definitely a factor but Agarwal’s footwork was more assured as he played some glorious on-drives and pull-shots off fast bowlers.

Before this game, Agarwal had played 10 competitive games including first-class, ODIs and List A matches and couldn’t cross the 40-run mark in 11 completed innings. He even bagged a pair against New Zealand A in an unofficial Test match.

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Once he had got his form back, he didn’t come out to bat after lunch giving Saha an opportunity to score an unbeaten 30, his runs coming mostly against non-regular bowlers.

The Agarwal-Pant pair added 100 runs in 14.3 overs and it also helped that part-timers like Cooper was introduced into the action.

In the morning, Prithvi Shaw (39 off 31 balls) was bowled through the gate by Daryl Mitchell as the batsman left a gaping hole between his bat and pad.

Shaw, though, seemed to have done enough during his brisk 72-run stand with Agarwal, which could put an end to the debate around the opening slot even though the tracks in Wellington and Christchurch could be a test of technique for the flamboyant Mumbaikar.

It was a match that Shubman Gill would perhaps like to forget in a hurry as he was dismissed cheaply for the second time in a row. He scored 8 before Daryl Mitchell trapped him leg before.