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The Bulletin by Sidharth Monga
November 22, 2010
Rahul Dravid's broad defensive bat when New Zealand bowled well, and quicker accumulation when they didn't, crushed the fight the visitors put up in the morning session with three wickets for 32 runs. Along with a quicker and more urgent MS Dhoni, Dravid added 193 runs. Although Dravid missed out on a double-century, and Dhoni on his century, India ruled out a New Zealand win and left themselves two days and 13 overs to force a result.
With the new ball turning square, two days and 13 overs seemed like time enough. Harbhajan Singh did the smart thing when the ball is turning so much, going round the wicket and trapping Tim McIntosh lbw with a topspinner.
This was the first delivery Harbhajan bowled from that angle, and McIntosh will know he should have been more watchful. Like Dravid was, for most of the day. A day after his mates successfully entered cricket administration in Karnataka, he scored his second century of the series, an innings during which he became progressively more fluent even as cramps hampered his movements. Dhoni himself fought cramps, and finally succumbed to them.
Dravid's wasn't an innings that will be remembered for its stroke-play. In fact he was still looking for the optimum touch on his shots, especially his trademark cut that is now tending to go straight to fielders. It was his other virtue that stood out. He defended swinging deliveries with a straight bat, tiring and frustrating the bowlers, and when they strayed Dravid played. The pull to move to 86, off an attempted bouncer from Andy McKay, stood out.
McKay stood out in New Zealand's attack on a day that all three fast bowlers focused on getting the ball to swing as opposed to bowling short as they did on the second day. They were duly rewarded in the first hour.
In the first over today, McKay became the second man this season to make Sachin Tendulkar his first Test victim. It was a wicket well earned, with extra bounce and slight away movement, two balls after something similar but wider had taken the edge for four.
Chris Martin found the big inswing again, and also a way through VVS Laxman's defence. Suresh Raina, looking edgy against the odd short ball, played a premeditated forward-defensive to the first ball Daniel Vettori bowled. It wasn't full enough, and resulted in a simple bat-pad catch. Raina now has 26 runs from four innings in this series.
However, New Zealand were not getting an inch from Dravid and had to attack Dhoni, who took advantage of close fields through an early counterattack. They weren't the prettiest of shots - the cut over extra cover, the back-foot whip past mid-on - but they were effective: as Dhoni scored 35 off 48, he allowed Dravid to take time - 56 balls in fact - to move from 86 to 100. Dravid's reaction - he held his bat aloft for the second of the two he ran to get to 100 - showed he had had to work hard for this one.
After lunch, Dravid upped his scoring rate and Dhoni settled in for a big knock, and thus both went at a similar pace. New Zealand had two half-chances early in the second session, but with Ross Taylor and McIntosh failing to claim those, New Zealand were left waiting for the declaration.
Dravid found some elegant drives, Dhoni his characteristic brutal shots, and New Zealand no respite. Just before and after tea, though, both batsmen struggled with mobility, ambling for their runs. When the pain became too much, Dhoni asked for a runner, but the lack of footwork hurt his shots, and he gave Vettori a return catch in the latter's 196th over of the series.
Dravid, though physically tired, looked fresh still, hitting three boundaries in five balls as Harbhajan Singh opened his account. Perhaps the fatigue was getting to him as he went for a six when on 191 - his first attempt at clearing the infield - and found long-on with a mis-hit.
On the surface it seemed India just wasted time for the next six overs, neither declaring nor going for quick runs, but they wanted to declare at such a time that would leave them a newish ball on the fourth morning too.
With the brand new ball, Sreesanth created a chance in the first over, an outswinger starting from around off and just back of a length, but Brendon McCullum's edge flew between the slips and the gullies. The good news for New Zealand was the return to fitness for McCullum, but the amount of turn available would be a real concern. Reverse-sweeping Harbhajan in the last over of the day, McCullum set up a promising tussle on the fourth day.
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Bide your time, put your body behind each delivery, and play with the batsman's mind