Patient India wear down New Zealand
India are well placed for "moving day." It's what their bowling coach Eric Simons called days three and four, when the Test takes large strides towards its conclusion. And it was a patient wearing down of New Zealand, rather than a concerted attack, that allowed India to control the pace of the game and reach a position from where a strong batting performance on Sunday will give them command of the match.
To achieve that, India used fields that weren't popular. Harbhajan Singh began spells, even his first of the day, with a deep point and a long-off. In what appeared to be reactionary tactics, MS Dhoni sent fielders to protect the boundary immediately after Jesse Ryder or Tim Southee slogged Pragyan Ojha in a particular direction. Zaheer Khan had a third slip at the start of the day but watched an edge from Ryder fly wide of second slip in the seventh over.
On Friday, the fields for Tim McIntosh had not been attacking either and singles were easily available as the batsman nudged and pushed his way through the nineties to his second international century. Martin Guptill, who was fighting to secure a Test berth, even spoke of his relief at some of the fields set because they allowed him to "just push it around and get off strike here and there."
India always had men in catching positions, though - a permutation of a couple of slips, a short leg, a silly point and a leg slip, waiting for the edge. But between them and the men in the deep, there were expanses of grass with singles for the taking. These in-and-out fields are the vogue and, on pitches where assistance for bowlers is minimal and shot-making is easy, they are effective because they keep the bowling side in the game for longer by controlling the run-rate, even if the wickets aren't forthcoming. So despite India's struggle for breakthroughs on day one, New Zealand managed only 258 and were only an early wicket or two away on the second morning from falling behind.
And fall they did. Zaheer struck two momentum-wresting blows in the first half-hour after which Harbhajan capitalised to finish with four wickets. Everyone was caught at the wicket, lbw or stumped. Persevere for the breakthroughs, but let's also keep New Zealand's scoring in check, was the formula. New Zealand lost six wickets for 92 runs and ended with 350, a total Ryder felt wasn't enough. "I think we are a good hundred runs short from what we wanted after the start we had yesterday," he said at the end of play.
India's wait-first-and-capitalise-later approach didn't end there. Perhaps wary of the havoc Chris Martin had caused in the second innings in Ahmedabad, Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir fought through a testing period with the new ball. Both batsmen struggled as Martin swung the ball in and Southee moved it out from tight lines and lengths. The openers attempted a few shots and were beaten but they stuck it out until the bowlers tired in the heat and their discipline wavered.
Sehwag, who had pottered to 2 off 23 balls, got going soon after a change of bat in the eighth over. Gambhir, in the middle of a slump, attempted to emulate his partner with an unsuccessful waft outside off stump. Sehwag met him mid pitch immediately after and spoke while his partner listened.
In the 16th over, after he had struggled to 16 off 48 deliveries, Gambhir played his first convincing shot on the off side - a cover drive against Southee - after which he looked up at the skies and said a few things to himself. Soon, his feet began to move smoothly, he began to place balls in gaps, and though he never matched Sehwag's fluency, Gambhir had fought his way through a rut and was part of a century opening partnership for the first time since Dhaka in January. When Sehwag brought up India's 100 with a drive through cover off Vettori, the batsmen met mid-pitch and punched gloves to celebrate. They would do so again a while later, when Gambhir steered Southee to the third-man boundary to reach his fifty.
Gambhir and Sehwag eventually fell in successive overs - the 41st and 42nd - but because India had already knocked 160 off New Zealand's total, the visitors will need a few more quick strikes on moving day to bring the Test back into balance.