India assume firm control of series decider
Virender Sehwag continued toying with the bowling, Gautam Gambhir continued his return to form, after which Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar took India to a dominant position in the series decider. As Dravid and Tendulkar accumulated risk-free runs after the openers' aggressive start, the faces of the New Zealand players wore a resigned look for the first time on the tour.
On the same flat pitch, New Zealand had been bowled out for 193, and were now looking at the prospect of having to bat out two days to save the match. They lost their last three wickets for 45 today, thanks to Ishant Sharma's impressive spell. He got good bounce from lengths that weren't quite short, and wasted little time in getting Brendon McCullum, who moved a bit more freely today. One thick edge flew past gully, but the delivery immediately after was closer to the body and took the edge through to the keeper. He had New Zealand down to 165 for 9, but some lusty hitting from Southee kept India in the field a little longer. After three sixes in three overs, one Southee mis-hit ended up with Sehwag, who then rushed to pad up.
Sehwag was in the same rush with the bat, but he was helped by the opposition too. New Zealand bowled to Sehwag the reputation, not Sehwag the batsman, and paid the price. Chris Martin hit him on the finger with a short ball first up, but overdid the short bit on a sluggish surface. Sehwag pulled and upper-cut with ease, scoring 39 off the 23 short deliveries bowled to him. Martin did manage to get him to fend uppishly on one occasion, but there was neither short leg nor leg gully to take advantage.
Martin had taken a quick five-for in Ahmedabad with traditional swing bowling, but barely pitched anything up to Sehwag here. That hit on the fingers only encouraged him to keep bowling short. In Martin's second over, Sehwag pulled him for boundaries twice in front of long leg. It didn't help that when Martin pitched up later, he was driven square for four.
The pitch was so slow that Sehwag once swayed out of the line of a short delivery, and then nonchalantly, as an afterthought, sliced it over gully. He was waiting to tuck into the full ones, whipping the next length ball off the pads.
At the other end Gambhir, who did the dirty work in Hyderabad by scratching through for his first half-century in 10 months, looked confident. His clips off the pads went where he wanted them to, the walk down the pitch to counter swing was back, and so was the steer to third man. However, the steer, when attempted a touch carelessly, would eventually cost him a century.
Gambhir was getting the singles to give Sehwag the strike. It wouldn't have been a good idea to keep Sehwag away from the strike. He welcomed Daniel Vettori with a six over long-on - a mere flick that went the distance - and then late-cut him for four delightfully. After lunch, he looked to keep feasting on the bowling, taking 17 off the first two overs after the interval.
By the time the slowness of a Vettori delivery cost Sehwag his century, he had added 100 or more with Gambhir for the ninth time. Still, India needed to guard against the tendency to lose momentum once Sehwag gets out.
Gambhir, although not trying to score at Sehwag's pace, made sure nothing of the sort happened, allowing Dravid time to get going. He brought up his fifty with a loft over mid-on, and followed it up by going back and cutting the same bowler, Vettori, in his next over. Best of all, he charged at Williamson, then merely caressed him between mid-off and extra cover.
With India one short of New Zealand's score, Gambhir chased a wide delivery from Southee, and to his horror looked up and saw a fourth slip and a gully placed for that shot. It was an angry Gambhir that made the walk back, but a serene Dravid had quietly moved to 28 by then, without a shot that would draw attention.
Dravid soon drew attention to himself with a lovely straight-drive just before tea. Post the interval, though, with Sehwag and Gambhir gone, New Zealand could bowl to a plan. The run-rate fell from 4.9 when Sehwag got out to around 3.5, but the two senior batsmen knew they had enough time on their hands.
Without incident the two moved to a world-record 19th century partnership - except for a couple of blows Tendulkar took on the forearm, and an edge from Dravid that fell short of the keeper. Both men made half-centuries, making it 198 scores of 50 or more between them.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at Cricinfo