Laxman and Chopra salvage a draw
New Zealand 630 for 6 dec drew with India 424 and 136 for 4 (Laxman 67*, Chopra 52)
Daryl Tuffey: on the spot all morning
New Zealand gave India a frightful scare on the morning of the final day. They played a session of magnificent cricket, but did not have enough firepower to go all the way and win. The only victories in this series were the moral ones that either side might claim. When play was called off late in the day, with India on 136 for 4, they were still 70 runs short of New Zealand's first-innings total of 630 for 6. The post mortems will no doubt follow, there will be fallouts, and yet it was, for the best part, a series that will be forgotten in the wake of more spectacular matches.
For Stephen Fleming, though, thoughts of entertainment were far from the top of his list of priorities. After putting India onto the back foot early in the game, he kept them there till the very end. New Zealand will take heart from the fact that they dictated terms to India through the course of this match, never more so than when Daryl Tuffey decided to take matters into his hands.
India began the day 41 runs adrift of the follow-on and under pressure. VVS Laxman sealed one end with the kind of authoritative batting that has won him respect from opponents the world over. Anil Kumble was the most likely of the tail to hang around and help Laxman push the score on. That was the idea, anyway, until he set off for a single after driving Daniel Vettori to mid-on. Tuffey swooped on the ball and, while diving full-length, flicked a back-handed throw onto the stumps. A stupefied Kumble had to return to the pavilion (396 for 7). That one moment gave New Zealand the inspiration they needed - the belief that they could still make India follow on.
Harbhajan Singh followed soon after, when Ian Butler deflected a Laxman straight-drive back into the stumps with Harbhajan well out of his ground. Tuffey then had L Balaji and Zaheer Khan caught behind in identical fashion off successive balls. The Indian innings had been ended by a brace of perfect deliveries, pitching just on the off stump and deviating enough to catch the edge. At 424 all out, India had fallen a tantalising seven runs short of saving the follow-on.
When India came out to bat a second time, Tuffey (3 for 30) was once again the wrecker-in-chief. A sharp burst of seam bowling reduced India to 12 for 2 at lunch. Virender Sehwag, who pounded 130 in the first innings, had a big swat at a full delivery outside off and edged it to Fleming, one of the safest slip fielders in the business (6 for 1). Soon after, Rahul Dravid capped off a forgettable first Test as Indian captain when he too fell to the Tuffey-Fleming combination (12 for 2). Tuffey had taken an amazing 4 for 14 from 10 overs in the action-packed morning session. After just 12 wickets had fallen in the first four days, New Zealand had given India a right royal scare, taking six wickets in one session. The match was alive again.
And soon after lunch, the balance swung in New Zealand's favour when Tuffey removed Sachin Tendulkar (1) with a peach of a delivery. It pitched just short of a length on a line that Tendulkar had to play at, and darted back in to slip between bat and pad and rattle the stumps (18 for 3). New Zealand sensed that they were in the hunt.
From then on, though, Laxman and Akash Chopra made sure that New Zealand were kept at bay. Laxman, who had ended the first innings unconquered with 104, picked up from where he left off. He saw off the dangerous Tuffey and settled in to combat the wiles of Vettori and Paul Wiseman. The two spinners wheeled in, sending down over after over, but were unable to breach his defences. Laxman found an able ally in Chopra, and pushed the score on to 128 before Wiseman struck.
Chopra tried to work the ball to the on side, but edged it to short leg via the pad. He saw off 160 balls for his 52, and struck eight boundaries in the process. He was visibly disappointed, both with the fact that he had played a false shot and because he might have believed that he did not get a touch to the ball.
In the end though, it did not matter. Laxman remained not out on 67, Yuvraj Singh faced 30 balls for five runs, and the game was drawn. New Zealand's cause wasn't helped by Butler missing the second session with a pulled muscle in his side, but Fleming will take plenty of comfort from the manner in which they dominated this game, and emphatically stymied any Indian hopes of revenge for the 2-0 loss in New Zealand last year.
Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo in India.