NZ press India into mistakes
"Cricket is a funny game. If you compete with a team for long enough, something cracks," Mark Greatbatch said on the eve of the Test. "That's the challenge for us - to compete with India for a long period of time. Into the fourth day, fifth day, if we are still with them, they are human; they make mistakes like anyone else." India got a taste of that spirit today, and New Zealand got those mistakes they were hunting.
India had strolled to 383 for 4, without any alarms, when Sachin Tendulkar fell. It's tempting to add, 'against the run of play' to that sentence. Were India, Sachin Tendulkar in particular, and a touch too cautious? The bowling was steady, but by no means disciplined enough to be suffocating. Jeetan Patel was a touch short at times, and offered width on a few occasions as well. You felt for Daniel Vettori at that point, and wondered whether India were going to pile up an obscenely big total. Just yesterday, Rahul Dravid recovered from a very slow start to push India to a good position. So the fact that they were batting slowly didn't seem like end of the world. The reason for the mini-collapse was, as Greatbatch said, they made mistakes.
Three of them came in the first session. Sachin Tendulkar went down the track, but the mind seemed elsewhere: It was a weak push. If you are an ardent fan, you might say the ball stopped. If you are from Patel's family, you might say it dipped on Tendulkar. It didn't look like it did either. It was just a push-drive gone awry.
The second mistake came just before the lunch break, when Laxman played outside the line to a regular offbreak. Most times, simple things done well and consistently bring results in sport. It was just an off break; it didn't jump, it didn't skid alarmingly, it didn't turn too much, and it didn't keep low. Laxman just pushed outside the line.
The third was a mistake that wasn't entirely surprising. Suresh Raina likes to play on the up; he reaches forward and knives through the line. This wasn't the pitch for such extravagance. That particular delivery, from Kane Williamson, stopped, and Raina ended up punching lamely to short extra cover.
There was a fourth mistake too, from MS Dhoni, but he can perhaps be excused. Dhoni was shivering with fever during the lunch break and needed blankets to protect himself. "It was good to see him to go out to bat," Harbhajan Singh said. "It was a good sign from a captain; [if] he had wanted, he could have not gone out to bat. It was nice of him to bat and he also kept. He is feeling much better now."
Harbhajan ensured India's mistakes won't prove too costly by taking them to 489 with his highest Test score. Advantage India? Harbhajan was very wary. "It's very slow. There is no bounce, no turn and it's hard for the bowlers. We need a special effort to beat them.
"With Jesse and Vettori yet to come, we can't relax at any stage. We have to work really hard on this wicket. We need to bowl to our fields and work to our plans."
Not that New Zealand are too upbeat. It was just about survival at this moment. Patel knew New Zealand have to bat long and hard. What did he make out of the pitch? "It's starting to keep a little bit lower now," Patel said. "Tim McIntosh was off a short-of-length ball. That's Test cricket in the subcontinent. You expect the ball to go up and down, so we have to deal with it."
India's bowler says it's going to be very hard to take wickets. New Zealand's bowler says it won't be easy to bat on. Neither team appears to be playing mind games. Only time will tell what will happen in this Test. See you tomorrow.