India v New Zealand, 2nd Test, Hyderabad, 3rd day November 14, 2010

Harbhajan ruins New Zealand's best-laid plans

ESPNcricinfo staff
The visitors had choked the Indian top-order by denying the singles, but Harbhajan's onslaught left them demoralised

The New Zealand outfit that trudged off the field was unrecognisable from the one that had competed fiercely for the majority of the third day.

One moment captured the spirit that had kept them on par with India for two-and-a-half sessions. In the 71st over Kane Williamson, the weakest link in New Zealand's attack, had delivered a full toss on middle and leg stump. VVS Laxman leaned forward, and with a snap of his gifted wrists, whipped the ball with precision towards the midwicket boundary. Brendon McCullum, who moves on a cricket ground like Carlos Tevez does on a football field, sprinted to his right in the in-field and dived full stretch to intercept the speeding ball with one hand. The seven other New Zealanders in the inner ring cheered.

As Brent Arnel ran in to deliver the first ball of the 125th over, however, the cries of encouragement from his team-mates were faint. Apart from the wicketkeeper Gareth Hopkins, the rest of New Zealand's fielders were weary on the edge of the boundary, bracing for another free-spirited swing from Harbhajan Singh. As Arnel approached his delivery stride, Harbhajan prepared to punch New Zealand in the gut. Despite the challenge of nine boundary riders, he stepped out of his crease, cleared his front foot and smashed the ball where Daniel Vettori couldn't place any of his men - straight over the bowler's head. The visitors were at their lowest ebb and had been turned inside out during the last hour of play.

Had Vettori aborted the strategies that brought New Zealand success against India's top-order too soon when Harbhajan began his momentum-wresting innings? For much of the morning session, Vettori had only one slip, a gully and a short leg catching for the fast bowlers but he had five other fielders saving singles at point, cover, mid-off, mid-on, and midwicket. The man at long leg was the solitary boundary rider. The Indian batsmen had to pierce small gaps, or hit over the top for their runs. The tactics were in contrast to India's: Dhoni had several catchers but sprinkled most of the others around the boundary.

Unlike the Indian spinners, Vettori kept mid-off and mid-on up when he bowled and denied Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid the singles batsmen crave to get settled on a new day. Tendulkar perished while trying to break free by clearing the in-field. Dravid and Laxman were more patient but had to contend with rigorously disciplined lines and lengths backed up by tenacious fielding.

Chris Martin and Tim Southee bowled dead straight with the old ball, aiming to swing it into the batsman's pads. Three men - a short leg, a short midwicket, and a short square leg stationed deeper and in-between the other two - waited for the uppish flick from Dravid. For Laxman the short square leg dropped to a more conventional position. While they were given no catches, the fielders flung themselves to cut off well-timed flicks and drives.

Leading the effort, at cover, was McCullum. The ball had to be hit over or extremely wide of him to get past. India managed more than two runs in only three of the first 20 overs. They scored 59 in 30 overs during the first session. Dravid, who watched many a drive, flick or cut stopped by a diving New Zealander, spoke of the effect it had on the innings.

"What stood out today was their fielding," Dravid said. "Their ground fielding was exceptional, they stopped so many runs. When Laxman and I were batting, we were trying to pierce the gap. Their fielding really helped create a lot of pressure."

Vettori opted for more conventional fields - two slips and a gully - when he gave the second new ball to his fast bowlers immediately after lunch but persisted with men saving singles. The field spread slightly when Laxman began to threaten along with Raina, but never did New Zealand fall into defensive mode. Their approach paid off and India began to lose wickets steadily as they approached New Zealand's first-innings score of 350.

Their ground fielding was exceptional, they stopped so many runs. When Laxman and I were batting, we were trying to pierce the gap. Their fielding really helped create a lot of pressure
Rahul Dravid

The match began to turn shortly after Harbhjan walked in following Laxman's dismissal, with the score on 326 for 6. He took on Vettori, who had operated with McGrath-like accuracy until then, and clouted him over mid-on before sweeping to the fine-leg boundary. For the first time in the day, perhaps prompted by the fact that India were drawing level, Vettori pushed his mid-on deep. Harbhajan attacked Martin as well and collected his first two boundaries off the fast bowler with an edge over the keeper and an unorthodox, awkward shot straight down the ground. Soon the in-field that had kept India's top-order in check was sparsely populated.

"It [the spread fields] happened pretty early, I think," Ross Taylor said after play. "He [Harbhjan] hit Dan Vettori for a couple of fours early on and showed his intentions. The momentum shift with him coming in happened fairly quickly."

New Zealand had given up actively trying to get him out, and Harbhjan hurt them by choosing his moments and clearing the boundary riders several times. "It's a tricky one, and I've been in that position myself," Dravid said. "I think they [New Zealand] were trying to get him out initially but he started hitting a lot of shots. Even with men on the boundary line, Harbhajan was still taking them on and he was clearing the ropes. There's not much you can do. So the tendency is to push people back and try and get the No. 11 out."

That No. 11 was Sreesanth, who survived 47 balls and watched as Harbhajan manipulated strike and ruined in one hour the advantage New Zealand had created over five.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Pradeep on November 16, 2010, 4:36 GMT

    you said it itsudeep

    i cannot post a comment less than 25 charectors, so i write once again

    you said it itsudeep

  • Avery on November 15, 2010, 21:03 GMT

    I think the real story here is how Harbhajan's lower-order rescue missions is the only difference between these teams (India, ranked 1st and at home; New Zealand 8th and away). It's nice that the Indian press can still find a silver lining when by all accounts their superstars should have wrapped up two innings victories by now.

  • Sudeep on November 15, 2010, 8:02 GMT

    A couple of good innings from Bhajji and people are already talking about Sachin, Dravid, VVS et all learning from him - I just cant stop laughing!! I am just amazed at the number of followers in this country who base their analysis and conclusions on the most recent innings and the batsman's score, and dump all that has happened before to the dustbin. People, get some perspective. @Nampally - You say "It is amazing that a bowler like Harbhajan has suddenly become a consistently performing batsmen,Whilst the leading batsmen like Sachin, Dhoni & Raina are consistently failing to perform" - please, you need more than a couple of innings to qualify to be called consistent. And Sachin has been consistently failing to perform?? Come on, I am sure we all can do better than this as cricket followers/ analysts and not get carried away by just yesterday's scorecard - and I mean yesterday in a broader way.

  • Dummy4 on November 15, 2010, 6:14 GMT

    he should bowl better.we dont need another irfan pathan

  • Dummy4 on November 15, 2010, 6:01 GMT

    @Gulshan_Grover : And what do you have to say about the great Suresh Raina? If anyone in our team can handle SA in SA, it's Dravid. If he is played in more than 1 test in SA , it is safe to say that Raina will return an average of less than 20. He is best suited to tennis ball cricket.

  • Nagaraja on November 15, 2010, 5:00 GMT

    @Gulshan, what the ---- is negative batting man? Playing a defensive game? Now, playing a defensive game is not negative cricket. Secondly, it eases pressure on the other batsmen; does not create pressure on them. When the scoring rate is a big concern, defensive game can create pressure on other batsmen, but definitely not in test cricket especially on day1, sessions 1 and 2. Rahul Dravid's game in this innings has kept NZ players at bay, and his calm approach and steadiness lets others play their game well because the other end is secured and they don't have to worry about falling wickets. Well, if you don't understand cricketing fundas, go do something else instead of passing exactly opposite opinions about our star performers!!

  • Dummy4 on November 15, 2010, 4:21 GMT

    why everyone is vying for dravid's blood? if at all u want to change something abt dravid, change his batting order from one down to three down and bring laxman at three down.

    look at the performance of dhoni. he is failing since last 7 test matches (3 against SL, 2 against aussie and 2 against NZ). he is failing behind the wicket too. drops some catch every match and that batsman makes 100. remember dhoni was made capitain because he was a wicketkeeper with great battting. it is time to look a replacement of dhoni, at least for the tests.

    also raina is failing since last 4 test matches, 2 against aussie and 2 against NZ. he simply throws his wicket if he is tied down. let us keep raina for 20-20 and 50-50 only. get cheteshwar pujara in place of raina for the test matches.

  • Pradeep on November 15, 2010, 4:19 GMT

    OK, all the guys who says Sachin, Dravid etc. should learn from Harbhajan, do you want Sachin and Dravid to hit century once or twice in their lifetime like what bajji has done? If SRT and Dravid play like Bhajji, that is what going to happen. Bhajji is simply trying his luck and now he is at his best batting form. But for a top order batsman, he has to do this in most of his innings and hence need to be careful, for the sake of the team. Still, Bhajji did great in this series so far. good going

    But i agree SRT and Dravid to be little bit more aggressive, which will help reducing the pressure and the runs will start flowing automatically. Pls see my previous comment also

  • James on November 15, 2010, 4:00 GMT

    Harbajan's batting is like Irfan Pathan's- a desparate survival strategy- of course its always good that the lower order contributes with the bat, but bowling is their key job. Because Harbajan's bowling has gone over the years from good to averge to bad. Its time we unearth some new spinners from the under 19 ranks. Harbajan, Ojha, Mishra, Ashwin, etc can only be stop gap arrangements.

  • Dummy4 on November 15, 2010, 3:42 GMT

    Dhoni & Sachin should take a lesson from Bhajii.As he has shown that if u play ur natural game there is always sucess for u.He scored 50+ Scores in his last three innings.Dhoni as usual showing he can stay at wicket but ha had forgotten that u just don't have to stay at wicket but u also have to score runs.And Mr SRT the greatest Iam a big fan of his but sorry to say but he is playing diffrently from previous series against Austriala.He should be possitive and not thinking about the 50th undred i think he is worried about that and looking to complete that in the same inning when ever he comes to bat.He should remove all like Bhajji did and play what SRT is Known for.There is no one who can beat the Master.Come on SRT hit the bowiling apart.Play Naturally Dear. And Mr Dhoni he will be same always. Only the Luck factor is taking him all the way.When he came to International cricket he was knowing for his brillent hitting.Same as Shewag was known.So Play Naturally MSD.

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