New Zealand fight but India retain upper hand
New Zealand 69 for 2 trail India 487 (Sehwag 173, Dravid 104, Harbhajan 69) by 418 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
It was not the one-way traffic that was expected, but India were well on top after the second day in Ahmedabad. In an hour either side of the lunch break, New Zealand's spinners ripped through the Indian middle-order, before struggling to wipe out the tail.
The fans had turned up hoping to see crowd-pleasing batsmen such as Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman and MS Dhoni, but it was Harbhajan Singh who kept them cheering by making his highest Test score, and eighth Test half-century, to push India towards 500. New Zealand lost two early wickets in their reply after which key batsmen, Brendon McCullum and Ross Taylor, safely played out the final hour.
The New Zealand spinners had plenty of work to do on the first day, and there was even more responsibility on them today after debutant fast bowler Hamish Bennett picked up a groin injury that prevented him from taking the field. Vettori bowled unchanged almost until lunch, giving away only 13 runs, but it was the other slow bowlers who got the morning breakthroughs.
India had jogged to 383 for 4, adding 54 leisurely runs with few alarms, when Jeetan Patel struck. Tendulkar fell punching a length ball back to Patel at waist height, and his serene march towards a record-equalling 11th 50-plus score in successive Tests was cut short.
If that seemed a bonus, given that New Zealand had been tidy but nonthreatening all morning, they had more to celebrate soon. Suresh Raina had already edged several deliveries in a short stay when he went hard at the ball but succeeded only in hitting it to McCullum at short extra cover, giving Kane Williamson his first Test wicket. Then, in the final over before the break, Laxman was caught plumb in front as Patel got the ball to sneak past his bat to trap him lbw. Laxman was unhappy with decision, but a jubilant New Zealand went into lunch savouring their best session of the game.
A swift end to the Indian innings looked imminent after Vettori's double-strike early in the post-lunch session: MS Dhoni inside-edged to forward short leg for 10, and Zaheer Khan was bowled for 1 by an arm ball to leave India at 412 for 8.
Harbhajan, though, began to attack soon after Zaheer's dismissal, clobbering Patel onto the roof beyond long-on and then slogging him to cow corner for four. His spin partner, Pragyan Ojha, supported him with a dour innings that barely had any forceful strokes. His dogged 73-minute stay came to an end when he padded up to an arm ball from Patel.
By then, Ojha had done his job, which was to support Harbhajan. There was a brief lull after Harbhajan's initial assault, but the big shots reappeared soon after. The tireless Vettori was thumped through extra cover, and in his next over Harbhajan skipped beyond leg stump and hammered Vettori over mid-off first for four and then for six.
Harbhajan was more circumspect against the quick bowlers, though there was a blast past mid-off off Jesse Ryder to move past his previous Test best of 66. He has spoken of his ambition to make a Test century, but it wasn't to be today as he bottom-edged a late cut to the keeper on 69.
Still, he had helped set New Zealand's misfiring batting a huge challenge. McCullum, playing as a specialist batsman, was opening for the first time since 2004 and he started with a flurry of boundaries - two off Sreesanth from his first four deliveries, and two more off Zaheer in the fifth over. But Tim McIntosh departed for without scoring, a short ball from Zaheer stayed low and McIntosh gloved it through to the keeper while attempting to duck. BJ Watling began brightly but was bowled off his first ball against spin in India - playing down the wrong line against Ojha.
New Zealand were 27 for 2, before McCullum and Taylor made sure there was no more damage. There were some close calls - a massive lbw shout against Taylor who was hit just outside off, and a McCullum edge just wide of slip among them - but the senior batsmen largely reined in their natural aggressive instincts to remain unbeaten till stumps.
It was a far better day for New Zealand than the first day, though the advantage provided by centuries from Virender Sehwag and Rahul Dravid, and the belligerent hitting from Harbhajan, meant the visitors are still second-best after two days.
Siddarth Ravindran is a sub-editor at Cricinfo