New Zealand v India, 2nd Test, Wellington, 4th day February 17, 2014

McCullum 281 not out, NZ lead by 325

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New Zealand 192 and 440 for 5 (McCullum 228*, Watling 124, Neesham 67*) lead India 438 by 325 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

It began as a "let's see what we can do" minutes after lunch on day three. Then it became about taking it to the next session. Then to the next day. Along the way it was about making India bat again. Even the most fanciful of New Zealand players or fans wouldn't have thought or planned how they would go about it but, close to five sessions later, New Zealand are the only team in a realistic position to win this match. Brendon McCullum and BJ Watling added 194 to their overnight 158-run stand without ever looking in trouble, helping New Zealand take the lead to 325 by stumps. When the two came together, New Zealand were 152 in arrears.

This is possibly New Zealand's best rearguard ever. McCullum became the first New Zealander to score back-to-back double-centuries, and finished the day 19 short of their first triple-century. Watling played the longest innings by a New Zealand wicketkeeper and fell only two short of the highest by a New Zealand No. 7 in the second innings. Together they put on the highest sixth-wicket partnership, at 352 runs, in Test cricket. And when Watling finally fell, Jimmy Neesham came in and smacked an unbeaten 67 off 96, the third-highest by a New Zealand debutant at No. 8.

Numbers, though, don't do justice to the stories. The task New Zealand's batsmen faced was enormous. They were going with an aim of just batting and batting for days, and at any point for a major duration in the partnership one bad ball could turn the whole match back in India's favour. Having put in a huge effort on day three, New Zealand still began the day at 6 for 5. Just imagine the cruelty of getting out at any point in the first session, and watching India come back.

MS Dhoni, too, decided to test their patience as opposed to their survival skills. Having spent most of the last afternoon waiting for a mistake, Dhoni attacked for about half an hour on the fourth morning before resorting to his fancy fields. At one point, he asked Ishant Sharma and Mohammed Shami to bowl from round the stumps with a seven-two off-side field. It is not hard to imagine that they struggled to bowl wide outside off. The only chance created with India still in the game was by Zaheer Khan, deep into the first session, but India had just one in-between slip that couldn't get to the catch that a second slip would have taken.

It can't take away from the feat of McCullum and Watling. McCullum struggled with back and shoulder pains even on day three and has a dodgy knee. Watling had kept for 103 overs, and got a 37-over rest before coming out to bat again. They still showed intent as the fourth day began. Now that they were in credit, they knew runs would push Dhoni further on the defensive. Defensive he became, but now he struggled to even stem the flow of runs. The bowlers were not able to follow his outlandish plans, and kept straying every now and then. Fifty-six runs came in 13 overs in the first hour.

The slips came out, the knuckle-ball slower balls from Zaheer Khan stopped landing, Shami and Ishant went back to bowling one loose ball an over, and India were already waiting for a mistake, or the new ball. The seeds for this were sown on the third day, when India's fields suggested they were waiting for the new ball, 40 overs away.

Milestones kept falling by the wayside. When McCullum went past 137, he had beaten his previous best aggregate for a Test series, 370, also against India. When he shouldered arms to Zaheer in the 118th over, at 312 balls, he had played his longest innings too. That leave was part of the only spell where India found some control through Ravindra Jadeja and Zaheer. Four maidens were bowled consecutively, but the two batsmen were too well set and too determined to let that draw them into a loose shot. The shackles broke as Jadeja angled too far into the pads, and New Zealand were off again.

There was little happening for India. Just before lunch Jadeja beat Watling with one that ripped across him. Watling walked towards square leg, and you could imagine him grit his teeth and get his concentration back. Every time they played a false stroke - and there weren't many - Watling would make sure they gathered themselves again. A Watling walk to square leg. A quiet word to McCullum.

In between, McCullum found time to display some brilliance. In the 142nd over, with India already beaten to pulp, he found the boundary beating three men around the point region, and a man behind them in the deep. Soon they walked back together for a session break for the fourth time. The routine was same: a wee knocking of the fists, a quiet pat on Watling's back.

The third new ball arrived in the final session. It claimed Watling. The Joe Pesci to McCullum's Robert de Niro. The lead was an even 200 with three-and-a-half sessions to go. McCullum tried to do to the third new ball what he did to the second. Beat it out of shape. This time, though, he was understandably fatigued. In the 164th over, he played and missed at Ishant thrice. Then, to the fifth ball, he left alone. The capacity crowd at Basin Reserve roared out an applause louder than one for a six or a wicket. They were with him. McCullum appreciated it, and went back to concentrate, to draw those powers out of somewhere. The moment of New Zealand's home summer.

Turned out McCullum didn't need to beat the ball out of shape. Neesham showed he was more than capable of doing it. The game is now New Zealand's. They will hope McCullum gets to his triple in the first three overs so that they can have a shot at two new balls while going for the unlikeliest of victories. Maybe not. After all they have a series lead, and an incredible comeback to defend.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • android_user on February 18, 2014, 0:18 GMT

    Indian bowling needs a big time change. I agree those wickets they got were good but what happens once the ball gets old. They are just clueless. Zaheer khan needs to retire man. Shami lately has not been able to swing the ball. But has a fantastic seam position but needs to give it an angle can't just bowl straight all the time. Sharma is mediocre amd will stay mediocre though he got a few wickets.It's about time pandey aaron and shami take ovet with stuart binny or rishi dhawan in the side. Otherwise we will just have to face these humiliating situations again and again. Jadeja and ashwin should be reserved for home conditions because they are fantastic at home.

  • Manush on February 18, 2014, 0:05 GMT

    Great show done with a purpose. hats off to McCullum. In the process, he exposed our bowling strength. From a sure defeat now looking to win a match, fantastic achievement by the captain and his tail end players commitment to the game. NZ under his captaincy a blend of some seniors and new talents has emerged as a very promising side in international cricket. Dhoni's poor show in Test cricket continues.!!!

  • android_user on February 18, 2014, 0:02 GMT

    I believe north/south India should have their own teams. India is a huge country and by doing that we will see the hidden/ignored talent!! We lost again cos we have the worst bowlers!!

  • dummy4fb on February 17, 2014, 23:46 GMT

    Rather than playing practice football before the Test match, India should practice fielding.

    Kolhi like Yuvraj Singh, is an excellent ground fielder, but they both drop easy catches.

  • Blackholesun on February 17, 2014, 23:39 GMT

    Why is New Zealand not declaring? If they wish to win the game then they MUST. There is no way India can score those many runs in 65-70 overs.

    By not declaring they are letting an opportunity go bye, they are ruining their chance !

  • chechong0114 on February 17, 2014, 23:37 GMT

    Why is NZ still batting? This is the sort of thing that continues to kill the sport of cricket and the main cause of why the game continues to yield so many empty seats and so little public interest worldwide.Here NZ is trying to force a draw thereby they win the series 1-0. To the team a huge victory but where is the fun in that to the average fan. The game is already considered by many to be long, dull, boring and very predictable. But to add insult to injury they are dragging it out to a complete lull thereby squeezing and suffocating any opportunity of a true result. These are the things that need to be changed about the sport very soon and by that I mean now. This game is being played over 5 days and yet it still is ending up in a draw where is the paying patron getting value for his money.And they wonder why they cannot draw more people into the stadiums, right there is the answer. This sport needs some serious overhaul, it has been around too long to be in this state.

  • wapuser on February 17, 2014, 23:37 GMT

    test matches require good bowlers. You need to be able to take 20 wickets and unfortunately india undoubtedly have one of the best batting attacks in the world if not the best, but their bowling falls very short. Unless talented bowlers cone through the ranks, india will always struggle at test level. they will continue to do well in the odi and t20 format as that is a batsmans game and the bowlers need to simply restrain the runs and the wickets will come. With test matches bowlers have to earn their wickets and this bowling attack is toothless and has no direction and no star lead bowler to turn to. well done mccallum brilliant batting! i think even i could score a few runs against this indian attack, and my eyesight is poor!! im not bashing india as some ppl suggest, it is constructive criticism. money cannot buy you everything.

  • truecric_fan on February 17, 2014, 23:36 GMT

    By not declaring after his great triple hundred, B Mac has proven to be a worse captain than MSD. Modern day cricket captains are a joke. Very negative cricket by McCullum, same guy did not have the guts to enforce follow-on in first test and almost lost.

  • Blackholesun on February 17, 2014, 23:34 GMT

    Congratulation Brendon McCullum for a record breaking effort ! :) Neesham too deserve a Congratulations :)

  • Alexk400 on February 17, 2014, 23:29 GMT

    This is greatest inning by not just newzelander by anyone. 98/5 with so much pressure... whether flat wicket or not. Not single freebiees and indian bowlers bowled very tight line. I really think mccullum learnt more from kevin williamson than anyone. Because he learnt patience and grinding from him. Its augurs great for nz if they can find two good openers. They can even win world cup if they can find a better consistent attacking opener. They have star studded massive all rounders in Anderson ,Neesham. Every team wants one pace bowling all rounder , nz got two.