India stride towards rare win through Rahane ton
New Zealand 192 and 24 for 1 trail India 438 (Rahane 118, Dhawan 98, Dhoni 68) by 222 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
For the first time on the tour, India began the day in ascendency, and they capitalised by making giant strides towards a series-levelling win, which if achieved will be their first overseas win since June 2011. At the centre of India's dominance, of a day during which they threatened to leave the door ajar, was Ajinkya Rahane, who brought up his maiden Test century after enduring moments of drama with the notoriously unhelpful Zaheer Khan for company. When Rahane came in to bat, India had lost two quick wickets to be five down and were still 27 behind, but he soothed nerves and exorcised the haunting memories of Trent Bridge 2011 during a full-of-intent partnership of 120 with MS Dhoni in 24.1 overs, which took India to their seventh-highest lead away from home.
This was only the sixth away century by an Indian No. 7, but also it was a first century for someone who had spent years amassing close to 6000 first-class runs before he was even given a chance to score one for India. Rahane's celebration betrayed no frustration or anger you would associate with a modern batsman who has had to wait for so long. His innings was equally level-headed. He could just as easily have become part of a collapse, and made Dhoni lament another big moment lost, which has happened way too often with India from home.
Despite Ishant Sharma's annoying 40-minute stay in the morning, despite Shikhar Dhawan's continuance of his charge, India had that familiar feeling of an impending collapse when they lost three wickets for 24 runs around the first-hour mark. It included the wicket of Dhawan two runs short of what would have been a third century to a clever scrambled-seam offcutter from Tim Southee. Rohit Sharma had just dragged on a wide half-volley from debutant Jimmy Neesham. India needed something solid especially given how Virat Kohli was not looking his solid self on a day that he would have sensed domination around the corner.
As Kohli played and missed a little in pursuit of that domination, Rahane began a proper Test innings, not playing away from the body, happy to nurdle and deflect, and using soft hands when he did drive. The soft hands showed in how two edges didn't go to hand, either side of his half-century. New Zealand, though, looked happy to give him the singles he could take, and play on India's patience. By the time the lead reached 36, Neil Wagner had frustrated Kohli so much with his dry bowling that the batsman gave short cover a simple catch. Wagner's figures in that spell then: 6-3-7-1.
Rahane was 33 off 71 then, and New Zealand would have been happy to let him score at that rate if they could go through the rest of the suspect batting. With Dhoni, they had another think coming. He came in and launched a calculated assault, hitting Wagner for four successive fours: drive through cover, pull through square leg, cut to point, loft over mid-off . This was a crucial phase because the new ball at that time was only 12 overs away, and if New Zealand could have kept India quiet until then, they would have fancied restricting the lead to around 100.
That initial attack, though, settled things down, and Rahane could continue playing his natural game. And he did so beautifully. The on-drives and cover-drives were sights to behold. The acceleration began to happen without an apparent effort to do so. As Rahane became a little more adventurous, New Zealand set back even more, and by the time the new ball was claimed, his half-century had been brought up and the lead approached 100.
Dhoni managed to attack the new ball too, which was the best possible outcome for India. It travelled faster, and both the batsmen cashed in. It all began with his lashing cut to the second delivery he took with that new ball, and by the time Rahane hit Boult for back-to-back boundaries in the 89th over India had spent their longest in this series without losing a wicket to the new ball. Dhoni, though, had taken a blow to his hand, and Boult followed him there, drawing out a gloved catch down the leg side to end his innings 32 short of what could have been his first century outside Asia.
Rahane, though, kept his head even though all around him were losing theirs. Ravindra Jadeja went bang-bang for his 26 off 16, Zaheer tried his best to get out and leave Rahane in the 90s with the No. 11, and the umpires called a Wagner no-ball that didn't quite look like one after having missed quite a few earlier in the day. Rahane enjoyed a slice of luck, too, when he tried to work the last ball of an over to leg from outside off, and the leading edge flew over gully. The shot, necessitated by Zaheer's presence at the other end, took him to 96, and the hundred came up without further drama.
The drama for the day was not done yet as the struggling Peter Fulton padded up to Zaheer, and was trapped lbw. New Zealand ended the day needing 222 to make India bat again.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo