India v New Zealand, 2nd Test, Mohali, 4th day October 19, 2003

Turn in the tale

It was a sight to be expected
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Daniel Vettori: a good day in the field, including Sachin Tendulkar's wicket
(c) AFP


It was a sight to be expected. Spinners bowling in tandem, fielders crowding the batsmen, and runscoring down to a trickle. After all, this was the series that was meant to be India's payback for their wretched time in New Zealand earlier this year.

But look again. The spinners aren't Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh. The fielders have black ferns on their headgear. And the batsmen are those princes of the subcontinent, the wristy strokemakers brought up to believe that spinners should not be allowed to survive.

Has there ever been so much tension on a day when only 187 runs have been scored? Well, not too often in New Zealand's history. This was a day when all the elements of the game came together for the fielding side. Very few fielding blemishes, and a scrap the whole way.

To see Sachin Tendulkar, admittedly returning from a long break, struggling for form is evidence that he is mortal. He is too good a batsman to be in that state for too long, but it was an acknowledgment of the effectiveness of the New Zealand attack that he had to graft for so long. His battle with Daniel Vettori was especially memorable, and few wickets would have been as satisfying for Vettori as his first-baller to Tendulkar after tea, which was well taken by Mark Richardson at silly point.

It was gratifying from a New Zealand perspective to see the two spinners, Vettori and Paul Wiseman, functioning so well together. Both have had their injury concerns in recent seasons, and Wiseman has had some real ups and downs. But he repaid the faith shown in him by the selectors, and demonstrated just what could be possible for New Zealand in the next year or two.

Two spinners in the side is a rare occurence in New Zealand cricket. But Graham Dowling's side of 1969-70, probably the most successful New Zealand side to tour the subcontinent, won a Test in India with three spinners in Hedley Howarth, Vic Pollard and Brian Yuile - plus Mark Burgess, a part-time offspinner who took four wickets.

To see them complementing each other so well begs the question of what might happen should India fail to reach the security of the follow-on? Vettori has had remarkable match already, sending down 53 overs for only 77 runs and claming two wickets, and with the beginning to bite and spit, he could be a handful on the last day if the pressure is really on.

By the same token, the concentration of VVS Laxman also had to be admired. It was tough work for batsmen, especially players who like to get on with scoring runs at a good clip. But Laxman was the protector for his side. However, if the Indians are made to follow-on tomorrow morning, their slow scoring rate of the could come back to haunt them.

Also worthy of consideration, but so often overlooked on a day when things go so well, was the wicketkeeping of Robbie Hart. With the spinners bowling so many overs, something not especially common for a New Zealand keeper, there were extra demands on him, but at the end of the day there were only two byes against his name, and a fine catch to end the innings of Yuvraj Singh.