'We've good chance of winning' - Laxman
The second Test in Hyderabad is poised like the first in Ahmedabad was at this stage, with one team needing to bat until a little after lunch on the final day to secure a draw. The roles, though, have been reversed and the circumstances have made it harder for the team attempting to force a win.
At Motera, India had ended the fourth day in bad shape, leading by only 110 with four wickets in hand. VVS Laxman and Harbhajan Singh fought for safety on the fifth. In Hyderabad, India are the aggressors, seeking to limit New Zealand's lead, which is presently 115, and take the six wickets that stand between them and an urgent run-chase. Failure to achieve the first goal would render thoughts about the second futile.
Laxman, a proven performer in challenging second-innings scenarios, remained hopeful that India would be able to chase a target within a reasonable degree of difficulty. "I think anything less than 200-225, even if it means we have to chase five an over," he said when asked what was within India's means. "I think with our batting line-up and the condition of the wicket, we can definitely achieve that."
The condition of the wicket, while crucial to India's chances of victory, is also one of their toughest challenges. Compared to the stereotype fourth-day surfaces around the country, this one was relatively without blemish. There wasn't much rough, the wear and tear around the bowlers' landing areas wasn't exaggerated and the bounce wasn't variable. There was bounce, though, for the spinners, but that was it. Turn was minimal.
"I think the wicket in Hyderabad is much better than the one in Ahmedabad," Laxman said. "Ahmedabad was more on the slower side. Even here it is on the slower side but the bounce is much better for the spinners. But definitely you would [expect to] see more assistance for the spinners, especially on the fourth day, which today we didn't see."
Given the conditions, Laxman said India's bowlers had done a "tremendous job" in bringing the game to the position they had. "I think we've got a good chance of winning. It will be very important how we start tomorrow's morning session. If we get two early wickets, then obviously we're into their bowlers and can put pressure."
India can take heart from their performance on the second morning, when they dismissed six New Zealand batsmen for 81 runs. The leader of that charge was Zaheer Khan, who made the first two strikes, but his fitness poses another problem India will encounter on the final day.
Zaheer left the field with an abdominal strain during his fifth over today and stayed indoors for 136 minutes. He wasn't able to bowl any more on the fourth day. The fact that he returned during the final session and spent time in the field, however, is an indication that he is likely to lead India's pursuit for wickets on Tuesday. If he couldn't bowl, it's unlikely that he would have returned at all. Zaheer spoke to umpire Kumar Dharmasena a couple of times towards the end of play, possibly asking how much more time he needed to spend on the field before he would be allowed to bowl. How fit and effective he is, though, remains to be seen because he wasn't at his canny best during his short spell today.
The New Zealand opener Tim McIntosh, who has fallen three times to Zaheer in this series, said India had missed him when the ball began to reverse. The ball is presently 75 overs old and a new one will be available to India in five overs. MS Dhoni will be hoping that a combination of reverse-swing and spin will ensure that it isn't required.