Bowlers, openers put India ahead
India found a happy medium between defence and attack, threw in some good fortune, and got themselves into a position to take charge of the Hyderabad Test. Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh attacked batsmen other than Jesse Ryder, against whom they limited the damage through in-and-out fields, and took out the last seven wickets for just 97 runs. Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir respected the swinging ball before repairing a scoring-rate - that had Sehwag at 2 off 23 balls - through a 160-run stand.
However, like India did with the ball, New Zealand hung in even as Sehwag took 94 off the next 97 balls he faced. About half an hour before stumps, they removed both the openers to get some sort of handhold during their fall. Gambhir scored his first half-century in 10 months, the kind of scratchy innings that often marks return to form for big batsmen.
The day couldn't accommodate the full quota of 90 overs, but had enough drama and turns. Zaheer, who had kept India in with two timely strikes on the first day, continued pulling New Zealand back. Bowling with the second new ball, he used the swing and the angles well, getting both his wickets lbw from round the wicket. He troubled Gareth Hopkins and Kane Williamson with swing from over the wicket, and then went round to deliver the finishing touches. Hopkins left alone the third ball he faced from the new angle, but it swung back, and would have hit the stumps but for the pad in the way. Williamson, though, had only himself to blame as he played across the line to a straight delivery.
Ryder, struggling with the calf strain he carried from the first Test, added 48 runs off 56 balls to his overnight 22. However, India did well to dry up the runs elsewhere: the rest could manage only 25 while he was there. Seemingly not in a physical condition to run hard and manoeuvre strike, Ryder couldn't quite take charge with the lower order.
Harbhajan provided the breakthroughs, getting Daniel Vettori lbw on the sweep, and Ryder with perhaps the best ball he has bowled in the series. With about 15 minutes to go to lunch, Harbhajan angled on in from round the stumps, and got it to turn away from middle and leg. The edge was lapped up by VVS Laxman at first slip, and five overs after the break, the innings duly ended, but not New Zealand's fight.
Chris Martin and Tim Southee got the ball to swing consistently, and tested the Indian openers. Gambhir survived an lbw shout thanks to an inside edge, Sehwag played and missed more than once in the first seven overs. Yet they resisted impatient shots. Sehwag played Southee's outswing with a straight bat, Gambhir stayed away from closing his bat face, a shot that has contributed to his poor form.
In due time the loose balls arrived. Southee grew impatient, started too straight with the swing, and both the openers found freedom in clipping them off the pads. Then came the drives. Gambhir gradually looked more comfortable on the leg side, and found the drives through the covers too.
It still wasn't all that pretty. Gambhir went driving away from the body against Southee, almost played one on from Brent Arnel, and Sehwag nearly ran himself out carelessly. Had New Zealand appealed for it, they might well have found Sehwag plonking his foot and bat in at the same time, perhaps a mili-second too late. Sehwag then followed it by almost giving mid-on an easy catch off the second ball he faced from Vettori, about seven minutes from tea.
Post tea, though, Sehwag took away the burden of scoring from Gambhir, entertaining the healthy Saturday crowd. The deep point soon became irrelevant: he repeatedly cut or punched to either side of the fielder. Anything too straight was whipped away. He may have taken his time, but by now he had started opening the front leg up and hit the spinners either inside-out or over midwicket. The late-cut was thrown in too.
By the time Gambhir fought his way to a half-century, Sehwag had reached 89. It was almost like Sehwag had carried the younger opening partner, and Gambhir's reaction showed. He took off the helmet, looked at the sky, and embraced Sehwag, who patted his helmet.
On 96, Sehwag defended one Vettori delivery, and without bothering about where the ball went, cursed a man in front of sight screen, asking him to move away. From Sehwag's reaction, it seemed it was a cameraman causing the distraction. He slog-swept at the next ball, losing his middle stump to a pumped Vettori. In the next over, Gambhir edged the hard-working Southee down the leg side, letting New Zealand right back. Now New Zealand could bowl to their plans, and only 18 came off the last 7.3 overs.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at Cricinfo