AUCKLAND: The first Test between India and New Zealand swung capriciously on the third day, pledging allegiance to neither team, before coming to rest on middle ground at Eden Park here. The tone was set in the first hour when India, resuming on 130/4, lost their next six wickets for 72 runs, to hand the hosts a 301-run lead. Brendon McCullum chose to not enforce the follow on, and when New Zealand batted again, a collapse of even greater proportions came about. Faced with a suddenly-heedful Indian bowling attack, the Kiwis were given no easy balls and were shot out for 105 in a shade above 41 overs in their second innings, setting MS Dhoni’s side, who are still searching for their first win of the tour, a target of 407.
Swinging Saturday had another twist in its plot. In the final session, India whittled away 87 runs from the target in the 25 overs they faced in their second innings. The only damage sustained was the loss of Murali Vijay, who was good for a couple of elegant glances, before he was unfortunately caught down the leg-side off another slanting Tim Southee delivery for 13. Shikhar Dhawan was unbeaten on 49 at close. He came out with the agenda of hitting out of his bad patch and had scored three when his uppish drive was taken by a diving McCullum at short-cover. But as the fielder hit the ground, the ball popped out of his hands.
Dhawan continued to live eventfully, almost running out Cheteshwar Pujara (with whom he added 51 runs) and escaping being bowled when he left a Neil Wagner delivery that barely missed the stumps. In a fitting finish, Pujara survived a rather optimistic shout for 'lbw' on the last ball of the day - an Ish Sodhi 'googly' that was going down the leg side - and ensured that India will approach Sunday's requirement of 320 runs with nine of their ten wickets intact.
A turbulent first session, which began half-hour early to make up for a curtailed second day, witnessed the fall of six Indian and four Kiwi wickets. The overnight batsmen Rohit Sharma (72) and Ajinkya Rahane (26) fell in successive overs after a total partnership of 87, having added six and three respectively to their scores. Rahane was caught at first slip off a Southee outswinger in the third over, while Rohit’s half-hearted jab at an inswinging Boult delivery wrecked the stumps off the inside edge.
This being no limited-overs engagement the Chennai Super Kings, Dhoni (10) and Ravindra Jadeja (30*), struggled for composure in testing conditions, before left-arm seamer Neil Wagner (4/64) cleaned up the rest. Dhoni had a few of his edges either fall short of the slips or bisect them, but was out when one – off the bowling of Wagner - finally carried to the wicketkeeper. The same bowler claimed Zaheer Khan and Mohammad Shami to bundle India out for 202. Tim Southee and Trent Boult ended with identical figures of 3/38. It may have been a deep fear of batting last in a Test match that kept McCullum from enforcing the follow on. But within thirty minutes of the Kiwis’ second innings, the decision appeared to have backfired.
Shami’s quality of bowling fast and straight gained him a produce of 3/38 and reduced New Zealand to 25/5 inside of 13 overs. The paceman trapped Hamish Rutherford (5) ‘lbw’ in the first over and followed it up with the other opener – Peter Fulton for a duck – in the third, thanks to an athletic catch by Jadeja at cover. Another smart Jadeja catch at mid-wicket, off Zaheer, sent back Kane Williamson (3) for his first under-50 score of the tour. Vijay dropped McCullum (1) at first slip in the last over before lunch. The lapse, however, was rendered harmless when Jadeja (yet again!) ran the Kiwi captain out – on an attempted second run – with a brisk collect and sharp throw from mid-wicket.
Fifteen for four at lunch became 25 for five on resumption as Shami pegged back Corey Anderson’s leg stump for his third scalp. Ishant was bowling with far greater control than he had shown in his first innings six-wicket haul. He got going with successive maidens even as Ross Taylor (41) and Watling (11) attempted damage control. Helped by several fruitless nicks that died before reaching the spread-out cordon, the pair added 38 in the only partnership of note, before Zaheer removed Taylor via an outside edge. As the hosts crawled past the 100-run mark, Ishant added three more to his match haul, including the wicket of the stubborn Watling, who was bowled after he had resisted for 72 deliveries. Then began India’s tramp to what would be, in the unlikely event that they get there, the highest fourth innings score in a Test match in New Zealand.
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