For all the talk about tailor-made turning wickets to suit the home team's strengths, day one of the first Test between India and New Zealand served up some wonderful cricket, with the pitch, duly, playing its part. The fact that this was India's 500th Test match meant that a proper contest was essential to stop this momentous occasion from being taken over by the "Oh, India only win when the wicket turns square from day one" naysayers, and the Kanpur surface gave everyone just that – a proper wicket, slow, yes, dry, yes, but one that just had enough for all concerned.
The first three hours of play belonged to the India batsmen, as KL Rahul set the tone early with some wonderful shots, before the two Test specialists – Murali Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara put on a century partnership to take India to 154/1 in the 49th over. Suddenly, though, the New Zealand bowlers, who had kept plugging away, waiting patiently for something to go their way, found their wicket-taking mojo, and just like that India went into Tea on 185/4 in 59 overs.
Things stayed up for the Black Caps in the early part of the final session as Mark Craig dismissed Ajinkya Rahane, but then came India's superstar all-rounder R Ashwin, and the right-hander, calmed things around wonderfully well, and with Rohit Sharma staying strong at the other end as well, India went back to a position of strength at 261/5, with just over seven overs left in the day.
The inevitable, though, came when Rohit (35, 67b, 6x4), off the final ball of the 83rd over from Mitchell Santner, bowling with the new ball, inexplicably went for the big shot, putting India right back into trouble again. It got worse for India when Trent Boult got his magic delivery working, one that comes in and hits the top of middle, with Wriddhiman Saha the batsman hearing the death rattle.
A little while later, Boult was at it again, rolling his fingers across intelligently to induce an edge from the settled Ashwin (40, 76b, 7x4) to put India on the brink as far as their first innings was concerned. Boult was in the mood now, revelling with the second new ball, and another in-dipper had Shami's stumps wrecked, leaving India on 277/9 with 17 balls remaining in the day.
Those 17 balls were seen off by Ravindra Jadeja and Umesh Yadav as India went into stumps on 291/9 in 90 overs.
Earlier, Rahul got going with a couple of wonderful drives in the first over, one straight and the other an even better one through the covers, and from there, for the Black Caps fast bowlers, it was about damage limitation, keeping the runs down and bowling long enough to allow the spinners to come into play.
Boult, with his line and length, and Wagner, with his aggressive short stuff, did that fairly well, and when Mitchell Santner was brought into the attack, in the ninth over of the innings, the New Zealanders had hope of a momentum swing.
That hope increased when Rahul (32, 39b, 4x4, 1x6) feathered one through to BJ Watling off the left-arm spinner in the final ball of the 11th over, but despite that opening wicket, New Zealand just could not take control of the game.
Cheteshwar Pujara, fresh off a century and double hundred in the Duleep Trophy, came into the middle and forged a easy-looking partnership with Vijay – Santner, Mark Craig and Ish Sodhi, the three spinners could not cause enough problems to the two right-handers in the first session, with a lot of cuts and late cuts coming into play -- the two putting on a half-century partnership to take India to 105 for one in 31 overs at Lunch.
That partnership bulged to 112 in the second session, with India looking in complete control at 154 for one. Then an innocuous looking delivery from Santner saw Pujara (62, 109b, 8x4) play the ball a little too early, the ball looped up and went straight back to the bowler, giving New Zealand the wicket they so desperately needed.
And then New Zealand saw that wicket door open up a little bit more when Virat Kohli (9, 10b, 2x4), given a great ovation by the Kanpur crowd as he walked in, fell to the short ball trap from Neil Wagner, top-edging a pull shot to fine-leg.
From 154/1, India found themselves on a tricky 167/3, with the New Zealand bowlers, particularly the spinners getting some purchase from the wickets.
The demons weren't scary enough yet to call to Ghostbusters squad, far from it, but there was just enough to give them encouragement, and after some concerted pressure-bowling, when Ajinkya Rahane, in particular, was troubled, the leg-spinner Ish Sodhi picked up the big scalp of the settled Vijay. Vijay (65, 170b, 8x4) tried to cut a back of a length delivery, but could only find the edge, with Watling doing the rest.
India ground out the final session, but with New Zealand picking up three more wickets, this really is a match that is anybody's going into the second day.
Bowling: Trent Boult 17-2-57-3. Neil Wagner 14-3-42-1. Mitchell Santner 20-2-77-3. Mark Craig 24-6-59-1. Ish Sodhi 15-3-50-1.
Fall of wickets: India: 42/1, KL Rahul (11 overs); 154/2, Cheteshwar Pujara (48.4 overs); 167/3, Virat Kohli (51.3 overs); 185/4, Murali Vijay (58.1 overs); 209/5, Ajinkya Rahane (63.6 overs); 261/6, Rohit Sharma (82.6 overs); 262/7, Wriddhiman Saha (83.5 overs); 273/8, R Ashwin (85.5 overs).
Session runs: First session: India 105/1 in 31 overs.
Second session: India 80/1 in 28 overs.
Third session: 106/5 in 31 overs.