Tenacious bowling and fielding from New Zealand delayed India’s charge towards a lead, but VVS Laxman had started freeing India of the shackles with some awesome straight flicks and peaceful caresses through the gaps. A healthy Sunday crowd was made to wait patiently as India managed just 81 runs in the first 39 overs, for the loss of Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar.
Laxman delighted the home crowd with homegrown strokes that had a distinct Hyderabad stamp on them, getting 64 off the next 16 overs. However, India will regret a dangerous-looking Suresh Raina’s careless dismissal about 10 minutes from tea.
New Zealand did well with their motive of eating up time for one-and-a-half sessions, not through defensive fields, but through controlled aggression. They were backed up equally tenaciously by the flying Kiwis in the ring. Brendon McCullum, Martin Guptill and Kane Williamson stopped several boundaries through outrageous dives, and Ross Taylor pulled off a one-handed blinder at first slip to remove Tendulkar.
A mark of intent came through their taking the new ball the moment it became available, despite how they had rendered stroke-play difficult with the old one. The new ball worked through good swing bowling from Tim Southee, who trapped Dravid with one that shaped to swing away but went on with the angle after pitching.
Dravid and Tendulkar had not looked comfortable in the middle. Tendulkar started off the day misjudging a single and nearly running himself out, and did get himself out through an uncharacteristic slog. Dravid battled for longer, getting close to a fifty, scratching around, failing to find gaps at times, but hanging in before eventually getting that beauty from Southee.
Although Lamxan might have struggled similarly for a healthy strike-rate, he struck the ball cleanly right from the start. Playing his first Test in front of home crowd, Laxman wasted little time in hitting two crunchy boundaries off Martin. Thereafter a combination of shots going to hand, the diving New Zealanders, and accurate bowling from Vettori – operating like a bowling machine with a brain – and the revolving pace bowlers kept Laxman quiet.
With time, though, Laxman started finding the gaps, especially with the new ball. The turnaround perhaps began with the straight flick from wide outside off, off Arnel, taking him to 37 off 97. Then the bat face opened precisely with cover-drives, the wrists started turning precisely to beat the field on the on side, and just to reiterate that we were in Hyderabad, that straight-flick from wide outside off was repeated. He was now 70 off 141.
New Zealand were hanging in still. Vettori went round the wicket to Raina, who had added fifty with Laxman in 11 overs. Raina played a loft into the on side with a long-on and deep midwicket in place, and New Zealand rediscovered the enthusiasm that Laxman had almost suppressed. In Vettori’s next over, McCullum and Williamson went diving to save two boundaries, but Laxman was not getting frustrated. The tug-of-war was still on.
New Zealand 350
India 436/9 (134.0 ov)
*Harbhajan Singh (rhb)Runs:85 , Balls:82
*Sreesanth (rhb) Runs:14 , Balls:47