India made to work hard on fourth day
Close New Zealand 340 (Astle 103, Vettori 60, McMillan 54) and 48 for 1 (Vincent 21*) need 322 runs to beat India 500 for 5 dec and 209 for 6 dec (Dravid 73)
Kumble struck, removing Richardson late on the fourth day © AFP
India were severely vexed on the fourth day of the first Test, as New Zealand's tailend resistance ensured that they had to spend much of the day batting when they would rather have been bowling. New Zealand began the day needing 19 to avoid the follow-on, with two wickets in hand, but Daniel Vettori and Paul Wiseman not only got them there, but also cut India's lead to 160 with some determined batting.
India then had to bat for nearly 45 overs before they could amass a lead (369) that was sufficient to allow them to declare. And then they encountered more stiff resistance from another pair of New Zealand batsmen, the openers Matthew Richardson and Lou Vincent. Only the wicket of Richardson (44 for 1) late in the day, caught by a diving Akash Chopra at short leg off Anil Kumble, allowed them to leave the field believing that they still had a realistic chance of winning this Test.
India's troubles began when it took them 22 overs, and the best part of the morning session, to take the last two New Zealand wickets. Vettori and Wiseman were not troubled by either pace or spin, and with Wiseman defending doggedly Vettori kept out the good balls and put away the bad ones to extend his overnight 28 to 60.
Vettori had said before the Test series that he would endeavour to try the patience of the Indian batsmen, but he proved that he possessed the resources to frustrate the bowlers as well, with an enterprising knock in which he scored as quickly as any of the top-order batsmen on either side. On his last tour of India, he averaged only 3.66 with the bat, but he is a better batsman than that figure suggests, and his fifty today was actually his sixth in Tests, and his second in succession against good spin attacks, after one against Muttiah Muralitharan and friends in May. Not all spin bowlers, who by necessity must devote much of their time to understanding what batsmen do to counter spin bowling, are able to convert this knowledge into time at the crease when they themselves play the turning ball. But Vettori was as sure in his handling of spin as any of his team-mates, and on this occasion his batting was of more importance to New Zealand's fortunes than his bowling in either innings.
The ninth wicket put on 67 before Wiseman made a mistake, top-edging a pull off Zaheer Khan to VVS Laxman at square leg. Kumble then brought Vettori's long vigil to an end, persuading him to edge a drive to Dravid at slip.
When India batted a second time, it was once again Dravid who contributed most to their quest for quick runs, with a sparkling 73. Dravid came in at 20 for 1, after Virender Sehwag fell trying to cut a ball that was too close to him, and sent it into Robbie Hart's gloves off almost the full face of the bat. Chopra proved unable to increase the scoring rate significantly, and it was up to Dravid to lead the charge.
With the field set well back, Dravid set about finding different ways of making quick runs, employing every shot in the book plus some improvisations of his own conception in a knock that served as a counterpoint to his impeccable 222 in the first innings. He drove Daryl Tuffey past mid-off for four, and pulled Oram between two fielders square on the leg side before running him down deftly to the left of another at third man. He lapped Vettori several times from outside off, and swung him to the midwicket boundary first with a horizontal bat and later with a vertical one. He even played the reverse sweep, lapping Wiseman into a gap on the off side. He lost Chopra at 97, driving Vettori to cover, and Tendulkar at 118, skying Wiseman to long-off, but always seemed to keep well clear of the fielders when he took risks of his own. Dravid was finally out at 166, and India batted a little longer before declaring at 209 for 6. Wiseman was the New Zealand bowler to profit most from charging feet and flailing bats, picking up four wickets for 64.
India were left with 18 overs in the day, and a minimum of 90 overs on the morrow, to bowl New Zealand out, and would have hoped that Zaheer Khan would produce a first spell similar in quality to his first-innings one. But that was not to be, and they came closest to taking a wicket when L Balaji produced a superb delivery that seamed away from Vincent and caught the edge through to Parthiv Patel. But Balaji's excitement was muted by Rudi Koertzen's call of no-ball. With just over two overs of play left, Kumble got one to bounce steeply and take the shoulder of Richardson's bat, and the reliable Chopra grabbed a sharp catch. But India have a lot of work ahead of them on the last day.
Chandrahas Choudhury is a staff writer with Wisden Asia Cricket.