New Zealand v India, 2nd Test, Wellington, 3rd day February 16, 2014

McCullum, Watling live to fight another day


Crowe: India will be ruing their complacency

New Zealand 192 and 252 for 5 (McCullum 114*, Watling 52*, Zaheer 3-60) lead India 438 by 6 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

He has lost the toss after asking for a nasty seamer. He has followed it up with a loose stroke to put the series lead in jeopardy. He has a dodgy back and a knee, and a left shoulder that is making him take painkillers. Brendon McCullum has also pulled out his toughest Test knock yet to take the Test into the fourth day and make sure India will have to bat again. At three down he came in with 194 required to save the innings defeat, saw it become 152 with five wickets in hand, but in the company of BJ Watling he produced a tough rearguard that has given New Zealand the hope of clinging onto the series lead. The two came together in the fourth over after lunch and walked back together at stumps, having put together - at 158 - New Zealand's best sixth-wicket stand in a second innings.

These fighting scratchy innings are the thing Watling does, but McCullum - playing his 84th straight Test, only three players have played more straight from their debut - had to battle his attacking instincts, swallow his pride along with pain-killing pills. He also absorbed and absorbed all the pressure before opening up upon reaching fifty, launching a calculated assault in an endeavour to crush the tiring bowlers. He was helped along the way by Virat Kohli and Ishant Sharma, who dropped him on 9 and 36, but arguably the biggest assist came from the MS Dhoni-Duncan Fletcher combine, which has a history on putting premium on making scoring difficult as opposed to survival.

Whisper it softly: India are still well ahead in the game. New Zealand are practically 6 for 5. However, it didn't look like India were ahead even when New Zealand were minus-125 for 5. Ishant Sharma, their best bowler of the series, bowled to McCullum with no slips and a 6-3 leg-side field. Ravindra Jadeja bowled 24 overs unchanged for two moments of excitement because he could keep the runs down. India were clearly preying on McCullum's pride, waiting for a mistake. Apart from the two mistakes India didn't capitalise on, they couldn't draw any from McCullum.

You expect attacking batsmen such as McCullum to rethink their defensive strategy when they are dropped at 9 off 33, or 36 off 108. You expect them to think, "What the hell, this is going nowhere, I may as well attack." That thought either didn't occur to McCullum or he fought it successfully. Along with Watling, he defended, defended and defended. He knew if he did get an edge coming forward there was a good chance it would go through the vacant slip cordon. Which was strange especially given how the first three wickets in the morning all fell because the ball seamed and took the edge.

Dhoni, though, was telling the batsmen he didn't trust their skill and patience enough to survive on singles for too long. And at any rate, there will be the new ball in the middle of the final session. McCullum and Watling were bent on proving them wrong. Every now and then a ball would misbehave, every now and then they would erase its memory as if with their feet while scratching the guard. It was such slow going that India seemed in total control, but drip by drip, with every ball defended, with every drop of sweat broken, McCullum and Watling were growing surer of themselves.

It was around the 55th-over mark when McCullum was seen flexing his left shoulder, and taking a pill. He might have had the pain before, but this was the first time he showed it. Were India beginning to think of the last two captains Ishant had let off his own bowling? Michael Clarke had gone on to score 329, Alastair Cook 190.

Like Clarke and Cook, McCullum loves India, as his average of 61 against them suggests. Three of his four best series as a batsman have come against them. Every now and then, even McCullum needed a release from the pent-up tension of just dead-batting. When Zaheer Khan, who had taken the first three wickets, came back for a mid-afternoon spell, McCullum pulled his first ball through midwicket for four. Back to defence. From 42 he took 32 balls, a tea break and a slog-sweep off Jadeja to release the tension again and bring up his slowest half-century.

By the time McCullum reached fifty, the new ball was 12 overs away, and New Zealand 93 short of making India bat again. India sat back and waited. The new ball has been doing things. There was one difference here, though. When New Zealand were facing resistance in Auckland, Neil Wagner went for the wickets even as they waited for the new ball, and brought in two new batsmen. Here India almost let these two bat through.

And when the new ball arrived McCullum laced it. The first ball he faced with it he crashed it through cover for four, and immediately deep point went back. New Zealand still minus-38 for 5. The attack on the new ball continued from McCullum as he went from 51 to 100 in 51 balls and with a slogged six off Ishant. You could see that was a release McCullum needed, a pause to gather himself again, and then get back to business.

Watling helped him along, always ready to run at the captain's call, twice diving in to save his wicket, inching to his fifty. During the day McCullum became only the fourth New Zealander to 5000 runs, Watling brought up his 1000 too. When they walked back they knew their job was far from done, but they also knew - former openers, both - they might be on to something really special.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • SIva on February 17, 2014, 3:05 GMT

    Who said scoring 438 after opposition bowled out for 195 is safe and winnable position? Well-done McCullum and Watling.

  • Dummy on February 17, 2014, 0:32 GMT

    good batting by it is dificult for india 2 win the match

  • Nish on February 17, 2014, 0:14 GMT

    India - very consistent as usual in snatching defeat from the jaws of victory! Just when we Indian fans think there is hope, it then gets brutally crushed which is so utterly demoralizing! Maybe a blessing in yet another series defeat would be get rid of MSD from the Test captaincy as his negativity & failure to adapt in playing abroad outside the subcontinent is leading to our team being whitewashed over & over again! To think he said he had a settled team only recently.......really amusing!!!

  • Friend on February 17, 2014, 0:07 GMT

    NZ fans are dreaming. All it takes is for one wicket to fall and India will win this in a canter. McCullum and Watling have defied odds and the Indian bowlers for a while but it wont be too long before one of them perishes. NZ have batted well though. I have to admit, I did not expect them to take a 100 run lead but they have but anything is chasable for India. I am going to stop predicting because it is the exact opposite of what transpires on the field. But this test is India's to lose.

  • Friend on February 16, 2014, 23:59 GMT

    @Sira Sudhindranath, true Swann will not be a factor for the Indian batsmen. No spinner is. But remember that England were dependent on his bowling for a long time. When his form suffered, their team's form also suffered. He has bowled well against India when compared to many other spinners. But, I get your point. The rest of the English attack has been a huge failure against even Aussie batsmen who are mediocre in test matches while our batsmen like Pujara, Kohli, Rahane, and Dhawan are brilliant batsmen who are best suited for test matches or ODIs or T20s. That is why I think our batsmen will have no problems against the mediocre English attack. The English batsmen cannot score quickly. Dry up their runs and they will gift their wickets. You also need impact bowlers like Ishant or Yadav or Shami to rattle them with pace. The English were long known for their weakness to spin but now they are weak against genuine pace too as exposed by Mitchell Johnson.

  • antony on February 16, 2014, 23:43 GMT

    ok guys..watling 150 his carrier highest and..mecullam 300..good match..keep it up india...good mr captain..another good catch drop...but actually when i am watching this know the clapping sound is coming only from inside the ground

  • antony on February 16, 2014, 23:32 GMT

    Better we will send this team to india..dear cricket board dont play outside india in any matches...@night 1 o clk we are watching this dead and bulshit bowling of our indian team...waste of time..same time when we are watching this match..our BP is getting high and same time for them their pockets are getting high weather they played well or like thiss..good go india go..

  • naresh on February 16, 2014, 22:33 GMT

    NZ are ahead - after 100 overs Indian bowlers are tired and there for the taking.

  • Rickey on February 16, 2014, 21:54 GMT

    Vishwas Reddy - I do not live in NZ so I am not certain why Ryder is not selected in the Test Team despite his commanding statistics. In the past it has been due to alcohol abuse and frequent transgressions. But I believe (I could be wrong) he has been in very good form for the past year and is on the verge of being selected again. Considering his average against India, I thought he may be selected for this Series but it appears the Selectors have not forgotten his chequered past.

  • Sanjay on February 16, 2014, 21:38 GMT

    @Posted by av1234 on (February 16, 2014, 19:18 GMT) reason for you to think India will be trying to save the test is too obvious -you are a Pakistan fan

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