NAGPUR: Indian bowlers responded splendidly to their captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s call of rising to the occasion as they pegged back New Zealand to 148/7 after a curtailed first day’s play of the third and final Test on Saturday.
Only 56 overs of play was possible as the match started at 12:30 pm due to wet outfield. But the Indians more than made it up for the lost time with some disciplined bowling effort.
At stumps, Brendon McCullum, who battled a severe back pain throughout his innings, was batting on 34 (80 balls, 3×4) in company of Tim Southee (7). The only other notable Kiwi contributor was Jesse Ryder who hit a useful 59.
India’s new ball duo of S Sreesanth and Ishant Sharma blew away the New Zealand top-order to set the tone as the hosts looked like going for the kill to win the series.
In pace spearhead Zaheer Khan’s absence, Sreesanth (9-4-20-2) and Ishant (13-2-32-2) bowled well enough to prove Sunil Gavaskar’s pre-match prediction that the "pitch will be a batsman’s paradise" wrong. The effort was even more laudable as one session of play was completely lost which could be vital in the context of the match.
New Zealand captain Daniel Vettori elected to bat after winning the toss but the move backfired as the Indians came up with a superb show at the post-lunch session.
Credit should also be given to left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha (19-2-49-2) for his disciplined effort.
New Zealand openers Tim McIntosh (4) and Martin Guptill (6) started sedately before Guptill hit a square cut off Sreesanth. His opening partner Tim McIntosh repeated the shot off Ishant in the very next over.
However, Guptill did not last long as Sreesanth produced a beauty of a delivery to get rid of the makeshift opener.
It was the first delivery of the seventh over. Sreesanth pitched it on the middle stump and the ball moved a shade away to kiss the outside edge of Guptill’s bat as skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni safely pouched it behind the stumps.
Guptill’s dismissal may have had to do with the fact that he was assigned a specialist job at the eleventh hour due last match’s double centurion Brendon McCullum sustaining a back injury while fielding during the practice session.
Sreesanth produced another gem of a delivery in his very next over when he got one to move in after pitching it outside off as southpaw McIntosh played to a wrong line. The delivery went between his bat and pad to send the off-stump for a walk.
The best part about Sreesanth’s first spell was the seam position. More often than not, the seam position was upright and that did the trick for the temperamental pacer. His first spell of 6-2-12-2 was instrumental in starting the Kiwi downslide.
His new ball partner Ishant, who in his first couple of overs did not make the batsman play much, bowled a better line when skipper Dhoni brought him from the pavilion end.
The Delhi pacer produced one of his trademark in-cutter that saw Ross Taylor (20, 3×4) not committing fully on his front foot and was adjudged leg-before. The score was 42 for three at that stage.
New Zealand’s find of the tour, Kane Williamson (0) failed to check his drive off a flighted delivery from Ojha and Sehwag got a dolly at short cover.
However, Williamson stood his ground as he thought that it was a bump catch. Third umpire Sanjay Hazare adjudged the batsman out after the television replays confirmed that it was a clean catch.
McCullum’s injury also meant that skipper Vettori (3) had to promote himself up the order at number six. With four down and only 43 on the board, the pressure was a bit too much on the skipper as he needlessly tried to pull an Ishant delivery when the situation demanded a cautious approach.
The ball did not come onto the bat and was wide outside the off-stump. The Black Caps’ skipper only managed to drag it onto his stump to present Ishant his second wicket and leave his team tottering at 53 for five.
Ishant’s second spell of four overs gave him two wickets for 17 runs, much better than his first spell of five overs which gave seven runs without any wicket.
Ryder, who has been India’s nemesis in the series, batted in the manner he only can as he hit boundaries of both Ojha and Harbhajan Singh.
In company of wicketkeeper-batsman Garreth Hopkins (7), Ryder added 31 runs for the sixth wicket. However Hopkins never looked convincing during his 36-ball stay at the wicket.
Ojha got his second wicket when he got one to turn away from the batsman and the resultant catch was taken low down by Suresh Raina at second slip.
McCullum finally came into bat at number eight and both he and Ryder were in acute pain while taking singles. The New Zealand duo could barely hobble to the other end. While Ryder was carrying a calf muscle injury and McCullum, who was carrying a back injury, seemed to have also pulled a hamstring.
However, since both carried their injuries into the match, they were not allowed to take runners.
Ryder duly completed his sixth half century in Test off 81 deliveries with five hits to the fence.
However, having New Zealand on the mat before tea, Dhoni’s captaincy at times lacked imagination. When India should have gone for the kill, Dhoni introduced Harbhajan rather than Sreesanth who had bowled a fiery first spell.
Harbhajan looked like the odd-man out in India’s bowling quartet. The bite that has been missing in his bowling since the start of the series was absent yet again.
Having been introduced into the attack with half of the opposition back in the hut, Harbhajan never really looked menacing. Neither could he extract any bounce nor did he get any appreciable turn.
As things were starting to get increasingly frustrating having added 42 runs off 118 deliveries, Harbhajan had finally something to smile. Ryder tried to punch one off the backfoot and Raina, stationed at extra cover, for the second time took a smart catch.
Ryder scored 59 off 113 balls with five hits to the fence.
Ryder’s dismissal meant that Dhoni would fancy that he can wrap up Kiwi innings early on Sunday and expect his batsman to put up a big total.(PTI)