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Cricket fans in India dreading the 3 AM start would have to suffer it perhaps one more day. India will go into Day 4 of the Wellington Test five wickets short of their first overseas win in nearly three years. Zaheer Khan’s penetrative opening spell today helped reduce New Zealand to 94-5 as they trailed India by 246. But India dropped Brendon McCullum twice—both fairly easy chances—allowing the Black Caps captain to score his second hundred of the series, backed ably by BJ Watling in a 62-over-long defiance that has yielded 158 runs so far. Despite this monumental fight-back, New Zealand are just six runs ahead, leaving India favourites to level the series.
McCullum had moved painstakingly to 9 when he nearly fell to MS Dhoni’s silly mid-on tactic. Virat Kohli received the easiest of catches off McCullum’s bat, went for it one-handed and fluffed it. Later on 36, Ishant Sharma misjudged a return catch that seems to have travelled slower than he expected. Just a few overs later, India missed a run-out when Watling’s bat deflected a throw. Ravindra Jadeja, who had to collect that throw, appealed for obstruction but the umpire had none of it.
McCullum’s innings was uncharacteristically defensive at the start. Looking to play out the noon session, McCullum and Watling dead-batted nearly everything that came there, except for the most loosest of deliveries begging to be hit. McCullum took 146 balls to get to fifty, while Watling got there late in the evening off 190 balls.
The new ball yielded no fruit for India as McCullum let loose some steam, punching the pacers repeatedly through the covers. On 94, he smashed Ishant, India’s best bowler of the series so far, over long-on for six. The second fifty took him just 51 balls. Given the circumstances, the New Zealand captain couldn’t have paced his innings any better. He protected wickets in the noon, wiped out the deficit in the evening, and, in the process, became the fourth New Zealander to compelte 5,000 Test runs. [See career stats of both teams]
Earlier in the day, Zaheer gave India a dream start, catching the edge of Kane Williamson’s bat in his first over. Later in the spell, Zaheer repeated the mode of dismissal on Hamish Rutherford. Zaheer had now all the three wickets. Just before lunch, Mohammad Shami had debutant Tom Latham, also caught behind, and shortly after the break, Ravindra Jadeja had Corey Anderson caught-and-bowled.
Zaheer was India’s best bowler of the day, stealing a march over Ishant, who’s been India’s leading striker of the series. The 35-year-old was dealing with stiff muscles last evening and questions were raised about his fitness. But his response today was top-class. Zaheer continued to attack the batsmen through the day, catching the edges of McCullum and Watling’s bats numerous times. On another day, they would have gone to a fielder’s hands.
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