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

Martin casts an intoxicating spell

ESPNcricinfo staff
Chris Martin produced an inspired spell of bowling to turn the first Test match on its head, and put New Zealand in the driving seat

Chris Martin has the most infectiously joyous run-up in the world. Malcolm Marshal would sprint in like an athlete, Imran Khan would leap, Wasim Akram would rush through the crease and Dennis Lillee would pound in furiously. Martin has the bounding run of a kid who is scooting from a mango grove with his stolen fruit. He is also perhaps the most genial-looking strike bowler in world cricket today. His batting is already legendary for its ineptitude, and if you consider his bowling performances from last year - 16 wickets at 47.93 - everything about him seemed genial.

On the eve of the first Test, Martin said he would "decide my future based on how I am enjoying while bowling in the matches". And boy, did he indulge himself today.

The run of his team-mates towards Martin after every dismissal perfectly captured his stature. When feared strike bowlers like Imran or Richard Hadlee would pick up a wicket, their team-mates tended to rush towards them with a mixture of elation, relief, and respect. The moment is packed with the emotion of an imposing ego, which comes from the self-belief of the bowler, and the awe-infused happiness of his team-mates. When Martin picks up wickets during a dream spell like today's, the overwhelming feeling seems to be one of unbridled joy from the other players. They aren't stunned exactly, but there is an element of an 'I-can't-believe-this-is-happening' feeling. Today, Martin gave them five such beatific moments.

Gautam Gambhir must feel like turning back the clock to 2009, when everything was going right for him. This year, everything seems to be going wrong. That fatal poke outside off consumed him today. He nicked the third consecutive delivery that angled away from him, which is Martin's natural delivery. Indian fans might have shrugged their shoulders at that moment, because there was still plenty of batting to come.

Martin's next strike would have made them fidgety. It was a hold-on-what's-happening- out- there moment, especially since Virender Sehwag had already been run out. Rahul Dravid was watching from the other end as Martin consistently got the ball to shape back into Sachin Tendulkar. In the next over, Dravid pushed out at the first delivery, which held its line. He kept out the next two similar deliveries, before defending the inswinger. Away, away, away and then in. What next? Dravid thought it might be the one that came in again, but it was the one that straightened outside off. He stabbed it to the keeper.

Meanwhile, Tendulkar was bothered by the inswingers; there were couple of lbw shouts when he planted his front foot across the stumps. He then re-aligned with a leg-stump guard, and reached out to square-drive one before unfurling a gorgeous off drive. You could could see that he was wary of getting that left foot too far across. Martin then slipped in another inswinger. Tendulkar stretched across for the extra-cover drive but ended up pushing too far away from his body. Clatter! Now the Indian fans were well and truly worried.

After Tendulkar, Suresh Raina must have felt like a soft target. His was a wicket you felt Martin would take. A short delivery was followed by two full deliveries before the over ended. When Raina returned to face Martin in the next over, his feet had retreated deep inside the crease and stuck adhesively to the ground. It felt like euthanasia when Martin slipped a full delivery that swung away to take the outside edge.

Martin then welcomed MS Dhoni with a short ball into his ribcage that Dhoni fended away to the on side. There were no further short deliveries and his first spell, his best ever in Tests, soon ended. It read 9-2-15-4. When Martin returned, 15 over later, he tried another short delivery 10 balls in to his spell. Dhoni hopped to defend it, but could only chop it on to his stumps. Martin disappeared into a huddle of joy with his team-mates.

A decade ago, Martin threatened to disappear into the abyss of an ill-spent youth. He wasn't quite Jesse Ryder, but he had his problems. He was drinking, partying and generally wasting his talent. He would turn up drunk for games for his Canterbury club. The boy was refusing turn into a man. One day, his father, Terry, told him, "If Shayne O'Connor can be out there playing domestic cricket, then so can you." That shook him up a bit then. Now he laughs when reminded of it. A couple of days before this game he said, "I probably didn't recognise my talent then. You just did what your friends were doing."

There was no epiphany that turned things around. It was a gradual walk towards maturity. "I still made mistakes when I was playing for New Zealand. I was dropped from New Zealand contracts for a year and I decided that I have to take things seriously. Sometimes it's not a conscious choice, it's forced on you. When I didn't get the contract, I had to sort myself out."

He did exactly that. Currently he is even preparing himself for life after cricket. He is just three papers away from getting a bachelor's degree in politics. "English and history seemed a bit dated; politics looked more modern. It doesn't mean I am going to get into politics. I write well. It's just for a degree."

But that's in some indeterminate future. In the here and now, he has a game to win. Can he take out VVS Laxman tomorrow and run through the tail? Or will things take another turn so that he has to come out to win or save the game with his bat? Now that would be something to see.

In some ways it's delightfully ironic that New Zealand are so close to ending their 22-year drought without a Test win in India because of big contributions - Ryder yesterday, Martin today - from two men who have battled partying problems. Will the two get to experience a different kind of high tomorrow?

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on November 8, 2010, 6:46 GMT

    @Bang_la I think you can't be farther from the truth here.BCCI schedules these home matches as per the economic prospects assosciated with a touring team.So teams like South Africa,Australia and England will always tour more than WI,Bangladesh and NewZealand.So India awards all its series to Bangladesh precisely because they will not make much money from the Bangladesh's tour to India.You can fault BCCI for their greed.As far as away tours,India is touring right.They will play South Africa,West Indies,England and Australia in the next 15 months which is perfect for the FTP.Even Pakistan tours correct notwithstanding their present crisis.The only hitch is due to Indo-Pak relations.Just compare this scenario Srilanka will be playing in South Africa after 9 years.Australia hasn't visited Srilanka since 2004.Now tell me who is touring right?

  • Dummy4 on November 8, 2010, 6:08 GMT

    @Marcio .. hahaha ... nice to hear tat .. but seemlike u guys are tired of VVS and indian tail ... fair enuf .and its not the asian domination over world cricket .. but just Aussies.

  • sri on November 8, 2010, 6:05 GMT

    @klobania you certainly have short term memory. Sachin did score two 200's when it mattered (against SL and AUS when the top order went down cheaply) I know u have been waiting for some time to take on sachin and he didnt give the chance easily as he has been scoring quite few runs. About #1 ranking, wait the match is not over, we will certainly fight. @Abm Biddut Habib Have you really watched the SL and AUS series ? Just check ALL the matches and please don't say blindly that he has not contributed just for the sake of it like SL and PAK fans. For being the greatest side i do not think we are as strong as WI of 80's or AUS of late 90 and I never gave a damn about rankings but it all started when Sangakkara and his players/fans started questioning Indias no.1; But of late no team has been performing consistently and if we do not have gud record outside then other teamsdo not have either. And for humility i hope some of my fellow indian fans and players will learn it from SACHIN

  • Sunil on November 8, 2010, 5:27 GMT we go with the bashers and naysayers again. One slide and they're out for your throat brandishing their machettes. Grow up, for heaven's sake. You'd think from the comments here that SRT was going through the leanest spell of his career. The guy averaged in his 90s and made enough second innings scores to close out games in the last 2 years. And besides, why bother, when Laxman is out in the middle - a guy born to bat in the second innings to save matches and pull off victories from the jaws of defeat. I think NZ have an unpleasant surprise awaiting them,

  • Sriram on November 8, 2010, 5:24 GMT

    @ cricrules - Mr. Abm Biddut Habib doesn't reflect the pulse of Indian fans. Just 5 wickets in quick succession wont make look Indian batting bad! Also, no one ever complained about our master Sachin. All you guys, witness one more greatest game in test history!

  • Bang on November 8, 2010, 3:27 GMT

    @ Ricky Jana, you are quite innocent! Can't you tell why India play so many home serieses? Oh boy! When India go abroad to play, they have to play in hard and bouncy wickets in most places and the naughty bowlers try to bowl so fast with bounces and bouncers attacking their throats. Nillions of dollars have so far been ivested in these Indian cricket "legents". Now, can the investors risk to have their product models get hurt? So, the money power house India, having managing the ICC president from India, dictate all teams come to play on our tailored pitch or else.......... :)

  • Avinash on November 8, 2010, 2:56 GMT

    i don't really understand the minds of certain Indian fans. how can you blame sachin for every failure? plz remember the previous test series where he scored a double ton when india is down 17/3. india looked safe b'coz sachin scored those runs. india seemed to be in deep trouble bcoz sachin did not score...!!but u cannot expect him to bailout every time in need..!!

  • Sam on November 8, 2010, 2:56 GMT

    A guy commenting a couple of days ago said he had put $100 on Williamson top scoring. I hope that was for his team not the match. New Zealand have been putting faith in Ryder and Williamson as players of the future and it is paying off. Southee is patchy but they are doing the same with him and it will work in the long run. Taylor, McCullum and Vettori are staples and have experience so for them to start being supported is good news. When you have a small talent pool it is important to manage players and support them wherever necessary. NZC have clearly done something right as the maturity and skill of the New Zealand team, at Test level anyway, is starting to shine through. Martin had a blinder but he is not likely to be around long, or repeat the performance anytime soon. NZ need to get Franklin back into the squad and replace Macintosh with How and then we will start to see an even better unit.

  • Reg on November 8, 2010, 2:43 GMT

    The idea that Martin's batting rules him out of limited over cricket (he's coming in at number 11 fcs) is too silly for words. I think the main reason he was omited was simply that we didn't take Bangla Desh seriously enough. Our mistake!

    Looking at things from a different viewpoint, consider those poor folks who enough faith in NZ to bet on a draw in the test, at about $3.50. Such loyalty! Such courage!! And when India came in to start their second innings,with only 4 and half sessions to go,they must surely have already started spending the money. Well they may yet collect, but how would you feel . . .?

  • Marcio on November 8, 2010, 2:39 GMT

    @ Cassie22, it appears you are right about Chris Martin's batting: test batting average of 2.28, one day batting average of 1.6. That's a real ferret if ever there was one! It's a wonder he can scratch his nose without poking his eye out! Let's hope he isn't required to bat to win the game for NZ!

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