NAGPUR: Rahul Dravid produced a monumental 191 as India tightened the noose around New Zealand by taking a huge 373-run lead on the third day of the third and final Test at the VCA Stadium on Monday.
After declaring their first innings a mammoth 566/8 declared built largely around Dravid’s marathon knock and captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s 98, the Indian bowlers went flat out in the final hour as the visitors reached 24/1 when stumps were drawn.
Harbhajan Singh trapped opener Tim McIntosh (8) leg before, leaving New Zealand with a huge task of scoring 350 runs to avoid innings defeat.
With two days left, Indian bowlers have enough time at their disposal to get the remaining nine New Zealand wickets and clinch the series 1-0.
Having scored his 31st Test century, Dravid was unlucky to miss out on his fifth career double hundred as he mistimed a lofted shot off Kane Williamson’s bowling to be holed out in the deep by Martin Guptill. He played 396 deliveries hitting 21 boundaries in the process.
If Dravid’s batting was about accumulation of runs, Dhoni’s innings of 98, for the better part, was all about flair and adventurous strokes. After reaching the 90s, the Indian captain was seen hobbling and seemed to have injured his right foot.
In his bid to complete his fifth Test century quickly, Dhoni offered the simplest of return catches to his opposite number Daniel Vettori.
Dhoni’s 98 came off 156 balls and with the help of 12 boundaries and a six.
Meanwhile, Dravid, who have had an indifferent time with the bat before the start of this Test series now has two centuries to show for his effort having scored the first one in the first Test at Ahmedabad.
It wasn’t one of his smoothest of efforts and was more about patience and intense concentration. Nevertheless, it was an effort that was worth its weight in gold, considering that there was a mini-slump in the morning session after Sachin Tendulkar (61), VVS Laxman (10) and Suresh Raina (3) got out in quick succession.
From their overnight 292/2, India were suddenly 328/5, when Dhoni and Dravid came together.
Along with Dhoni, the former India captain added 193 runs for the sixth wicket to consolidate India’s position in the match from where they can only look forward to one result and that is a victory.
The moment Dravid tucked Vettori to square leg for a two, it was more about the release of pressure than celebration for the former India captain. It took him 256 balls and 384 minutes to complete the ton.
It should be double delight for ‘The Wall’ as it came in the town where his in-laws stay, and after being elected in the managing committee of the KSCA on Sunday.
Dravid remained solid throughout although he failed to get the scoreboard moving initially. In fact he scored his first run of the day in the seventh over. He did punish the loose deliveries, as one bowled by Southee on his legs was whipped away to mid-wicket boundary.
He also pulled a short one from McKay to the square leg boundary.
However Dhoni’s positive intent helped Dravid to concentrate and carry on the repair job with the captain being the dominant partner.
Dravid played much more freely after reaching the three-figure mark. He hit some lovely strokes in the region between point and extra cover where the bulk of his runs were scored.
Dhoni, who has also faced a lot of flak of late, for his subdued batting looked to hit his way out of the bad patch with a flurry of boundaries of the pace bowlers.
He chose McKay for some special treatment hitting him for three successive boundaries in an over — one through mid-on, then over point and the last one was over cover region.
Some of Dhoni’s shots brought back memories of the past when he used to attack the bowlers with great gusto.
The most delightful of all the strokes was the six he hit off Andy McKay. He launched into the fullish delivery and heaved it over long.
The Indian captain gave only one chance, when his mistimed lofted shot wasn’t taken by McIntosh who was running backwards. Dhoni was batting on 42 then. There wasn’t any other blemish in his innings.
Earlier in the day, the whole country waited in anticipation of Sachin Tendulkar’s 50th Test century but it was disappointment as he was out as early as the second over of the day.
Needing 43 runs to complete what would have been a first in the history of Test cricket, debutant McKay got rid of the maestro of the very third ball he faced.
After steering the left-arm pacer to the third-man boundary, McKay got one to lift from short of good length. The awkward bounce forced Tendulkar to get squared up and the snick was gleefully gobbled up by Gareth Hopkins standing behind the stumps.
Tendulkar scored 61 off 129 deliveries with the help of eight boundaries.
For McKay, who has waited in the wings for several years, it couldn’t have been a more memorable first Test wicket. For the thousands of Tendulkar fans, they would now have to wait in anticipation till the Test series in South Africa starts as it looks unlikely that the legendary batsman would get a chance to complete the landmark if India bat last.
VVS Laxman (10), who has enjoyed a fantastic season so far, started off in style, with a short-arm pull of McKay and caressing the same bowler through the covers. However, Chris Martin bowled a lethal inswinger that sent the Hyderabad batsmen’s leg-stump cart wheeling.
There was absolutely no footwork from Laxman as he remained rooted in his crease. The movement was sharp and the ball had the pace which undid Laxman.
Raina, who is in woeful form of late, didn’t last long offering a simple bat-pad catch off Vettori to substitute Brian Watling at forward short leg.(PTI)