India v New Zealand, 1st Test, Ahmedabad, 4th day November 7, 2010

Jolted India switch focus to survival

ESPNcricinfo staff
The fact that the hosts, favourites at the start of the series, are battling to stay alive in the Test is an indication of how well New Zealand have overcome the Bangladesh debacle

The last time India were five wickets down for so few in a Test, they were considered the minnows of the game. On that disastrous 1952 tour of England, they slumped to 0 for 4 in the second innings at Headingley. But worse was to follow in the final Test at The Oval, when Alec Bedser and Fred Trueman reduced them to 6 for 5. They escaped with a draw only because poor weather allowed less than 11 hours of play over the five days.

There are no dark clouds over Motera to provide succour after the penultimate day of this game and if India are to avoid the embarrassment of defeat against a side that currently has a similar standing to what they did in 1952, inspiration will have to come from someone who was part of a remarkable game here 14 years ago.

VVS Laxman, whose languid strokeplay and composure offer the best escape route, made his debut in that game, a bizarre affair where South Africa took a 21-run lead and then had India 91 for 5 in the second innings. Laxman made 51 of the 98 added while he was at the crease, and the visitors were left with 170 to win on the fourth day.

On a wearing pitch, Anil Kumble was expected to be India's most potent weapon, but instead it was Javagal Srinath with his inswingers and offcutters that caused havoc on a surface with widening cracks. From 96 for 4, South Africa slumped to 105 all out.

It was hard not to think of Srinath's spell as Chris Martin, with just eight previous five-fors in 56 Tests, scythed through a vaunted batting line-up either side of tea. Like Srinath, he kept it full and swung the ball. But as with the delivery that accounted for Sachin Tendulkar, there was also movement off the seam. Some of the shots the Indians played weren't especially clever, but credit has to go to Martin for creating a siege mentality in the batsmen's mind without even having pace support at the other end.

Pragyan Ojha's 4 for 107 earlier in the day had given India the sort of slender lead that South Africa had back in '96, but by close of play the first session had pretty much been forgotten. "It was a great spell from Martin," said Ojha afterwards. "But as we know, Bhajju pa [Harbhajan] can bat, and Laxman is still at the crease. Even when I, Zak pa [Zaheer] or Sree [Sreesanth] go out to bat, we'll definitely look to play as long as we can."

The irony of India scrapping for survival against a team blanked by Bangladesh in a one-day series last month wasn't lost on anyone, but Ojha preferred to focus on Martin's spell rather than any inadequacies within his own team. "There's little grass on the wicket," he said. "He bowled really good lines and he was bowling up which favoured him. It was bad luck for us that we lost so many wickets in a session."

India have collapsed before, most recently in Mohali against Australia, but few of those have been as unexpected as this, against a side reduced to three regular bowlers as a result of injuries to Hamish Bennett [groin strain] and Jesse Ryder [tightness in the calf]. A game that had meandered for three days and a session, with more than 900 runs scored for the loss of 15 wickets, came alive on the stroke of lunch when debutant Kane Williamson edged Ojha to slip.

Including that dismissal, 10 wickets fell for 59 runs. The fact that the crocked Bennett and the hapless Martin - who inflated his Test batting average to 2.35 with his unbeaten 3 - survived 51 balls between them suggested that there certainly weren't any demons in the pitch, which continued to be one that offered extremely slow turn and little else. "The couple of balls that he got to turn a lot were way outside off stump," said Ojha when asked about Daniel Vettori's bowling. "When he was bowling on the stumps, it wasn't doing much. That's what I felt."

That assessment also revealed just how hard it will be for India to conjure up a win on the final day. "We're confident that even if we get 160 or 170, we can make a match of it," said Ojha, though it was obvious from his demeanour and tone that he wasn't expecting anything like the minefield-drama that saw Australia slide to 93 all out at the Wankhede Stadium in 2004.

The slow bowlers will be expected to keep the batsmen on a leash and prey on their uncertainties on a dusty surface, but damage will need to be done first up, Srinath-style, if India are to get out of jail on the final day. "Any wicket, when the seamers do something with the new ball, it's a bit easier for the spinners," said Ojha. "If it's 40 for 2 or 3 when you come on to bowl, the batsmen are under pressure. You're one step ahead of them."

For now, India are several steps behind and faltering. As long as Laxman bats, hope floats. But the very fact that it's 'survival' and 'escape' that are the buzzwords on Sunday night are indicative of just how much New Zealand have stepped up their game since the misadventure in Bangladesh. Win or lose - a draw is unlikely - they'll have the satisfaction of leaving Motera knowing that they gave India a very bloody nose. And in the twilight of his career, it was the soon-to-be-36 Martin who landed Phantom punches that Ali would have been proud of.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on November 8, 2010, 13:55 GMT

    What is wrong with some of you ?? it's clear that most of you who come here and comment dont know anything about cricket,but the main thing you all lack is gratitude.......freaking loosers,when dravid scored a 100,you were praising him and with just one failure,you started throwing stones at him !! dravid is a gr8 player......and will always be !! I also saw some of you saying Raina should be out,he is a poor player of pace,etc......The guy is pure class,universally talented and is the only discovery for the future !! this new zealand attack is nothing if he can score 86 against the aussie pacers on the mohali track,then how is he a poor player just because of one match where he couldn't score ?? his failure may also be due to the recent false and utterly baseless allegations of match fixing,which must have affected his concentration !! you all are only helping those who made these allegations as they know he is key to india's WC CUT HIM SOME SLACK !!

  • Ajay on November 8, 2010, 8:43 GMT

    What a slap on the face for all those bagging India haha.... All they got to watch was a magnificent Bhajji century.LOL......

  • Ajay on November 8, 2010, 8:16 GMT

    @all sl and pak fans INdia is no 1 for this exact reason of not giving up they are completely down and out . India the deserving NO 1 team. Gud luck.....

  • Gaurav on November 8, 2010, 6:21 GMT

    @Razor88- You are correct ,no wickets till lunch , India is in a comfortable position now, celebration of some guys who were thinking that India will fall down in 5 overs and NZ will win the match is over now . @ all Indian team haters -guys cheer for your team and pray for their victory instead of making blatant comments about Indian team.Even the best teams in the world can have a bad day like it happened with India but good teams fight back hard like it has happened in this match , at Mohali recently against Australia and very recently SL vs Australia.One bad day for India and some guys jumping in this virtual world as if its an end of Indian cricket.Too much excitement eh?

  • Karthik on November 8, 2010, 6:13 GMT

    To all those who had to jump their guns and criticise india ..on your face..i think u critics can never accept india being no.1 and keep waiting for one opportunity to start criticising india ..u got to wait till the match is actually over and to all those who thought india is gonna hang on ..SPOT ON!!! now the match is going to be a draw!! the NO.1 team played like a No.1 team and the NO.8 played like a NO.8 !!!

  • venkataramana rao on November 8, 2010, 4:29 GMT

    This game is not yet over. If India puts on 200, there is good chance India will still win. 200 runs and 2 seasons is all that is required on a 5th day pitch. But there are some hard questions to answer. Dravid is averaging 50+ in the last 18 months but has been inconsistent for too long. We should play Laxman at 3 and move Dravid to 5. Also Gambhir needs a break from tests. Allow him to play one day and get his confidence back. We need to tighten batting if we need to have a chance against SA in SA.

  • Richard on November 8, 2010, 4:25 GMT

    @sagitrama-Good comment mate. It's just a game. I sometimes feel, as you say, that some Indian fans are a little too serious about something that is really meant to be a pleasant experience, and veer from a mocking and disrespectful attitude when India are winning to abject depression when they lose. Too many times I see words like disgrace, pathetic, laughing stock, idiot, fool, loser etc. Cricket is such a beautiful game and is better off without this hyper-emotionally charged rhetoric. Your comment made me feel good to be part of our international group of cricket players and enthusiasts. May the best team today win! @kitten-Too right my friend, Shastri is such a dill, which is a little surprising as I considered him a player to be reckoned with. He's really a propagandist and not an analyst, and makes the worst of our Aussie commentators like Ian Healy look good by comparison. Healy is a terrible commentator who just can't hide his bias, but Shastri is worse. Give me Richie any day

  • Arun on November 8, 2010, 4:03 GMT

    Team India could rethink about there bowling capabilities ; new faces like Seemer jaideep unadkath , 17 year old promising spinner Harmeet Singh (Mumbai ) can be tested out in place of sreesanth/ishanth & bhaji .If one legspinner was there in Indian team , Kiwis 2nd innings will be worse than that of India ..unfortunately India misses Kumble ... but Bhaji may out of track with ball , but he can bring some sweaty condolence with his bat ..all the best Indian team ..

  • Keith on November 8, 2010, 3:48 GMT

    The No.1 team now focussing on survival. The No.1 team which was playing injury struck NZ XI. Looks like the No.1 team did not have answers to a bowler who is not actually rated among the top guys. What is happening to the No.1 team??? Or was being No.1 a fluke by beating all the other tems at home??? Which ever way Laxman try to hold on, as the hope of a nation lies on you, what hppened to the yonger blood when you really need them, Oh I'm sorry I forgot that it was all a fluke.

  • Sibhi on November 8, 2010, 3:37 GMT

    @grvdubey - Rightly said!!

    To all Critics... Its NOT OVER until it over... we will accept Defeat if it happens... First Critics should worry abt 4 wickets and what you call a 5 the day Nightmare... Lets been Honest... lets see how Kiwis will perform with the bat(Provided a Daunting Target)

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