Debutant Shreyas Iyer hit a fine half-century (65 off 125) to lead India's fightback on Day 4 of the first Test against New Zealand at Green Park, Kanpur. At the close of play on Sunday, the Kiwis were 4/1, still needing another 280 runs.
Iyer, who also hit 105 off 171 in the first innings, thus became the first Indian to score a century and half-century in a debut Test match. He is also only the third Indian male batter, after Lala Amarnath and Dilawar Hussain, to have top-scored for India in both innings on Test debut.
After the day's play, the 26-year-old played down the records saying, "the most important thing is to win the match."
"Many others have done it from other teams [century and half-century on debut] but I was told I am the first from India. It feels good but the most important thing is to win the match. Rahul [Dravid] Sir had told me to bat as many balls as possible and I was determined to do that. We felt that 250 including the first-innings lead would have been a good score, so we're very happy with where we are now," he said.
India took a crucial 49-run lead in the first innings after dismissing New Zealand for 296. But the hosts lost five wickets for just 51 runs in 19.4 overs as the Kiwis hit back with a vengeance on the so-called moving day. Then Iyer, along with Wriddhiman Saha (61 not out off 126), revived India, allowing Ajinkya Rahane to declare the second innings at 234/7.
Talking about challenges posed by the visitors, Iyer said that he "had been in this situation before as well, not with the Indian team but with my Ranji team." Iyer has been a batting mainstay for the Mumbai team in the domestic circuit. "Mindset was to play the session and play as many balls as possible. I wasn't thinking too far ahead, was just focusing on the present."
Iyer has 4592 runs in 54 First-class cricket with 12 centuries and 23 fifties. Interestingly, Iyer made his Ranji Trophy debut in 2014. And on Saturday, he had recalled his Ranji Trophy season, saying "Kanpur stadium has been really lucky for me. My debut Ranji season was under Suryakumar's captainship and I would like to thank him for backing me after my first four innings because I thought I would be out of the team."
He already established himself as a reliable middle-order batter in limited-overs formats. Before the Test debut, he has played 22 ODIs and 32 T20Is, scoring 813 and 580 runs respectively.
Talking about final day prospects, the right-handed said that they are "very happy with where we are now". He also said that India "have real spin power, so hopefully, we can get the job done tomorrow."
For the record, no visiting team has chased down a target of more than 276 runs in India.
India and New Zealand played the final of the inaugural ICC World Test Championship edition with the Kiwis winning the rain-affected, six-day match. India are looking for payback.