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January 13, 2008
The Wellington Test seems destined for the same conclusion as the first in Dunedin, with Bangladesh in danger of slipping to yet another defeat inside three days. They were poor in all disciplines: their fielders dropped catches, the support bowlers were expensive and their batsmen collapsed once again when faced with a massive first-innings deficit. At the end of the second day at the Basin Reserve, they needed another 199 runs with five wickets in hand to avoid an innings defeat.
If one wanted to be critical of New Zealand's performance today, the inability of their top-order batsmen to post large scores would be the only grouse. Several batsmen got starts - Mathew Sinclair made 47, Stephen Fleming 87, Brendon McCullum raced to 40 - but they failed to press on, a worry ahead of the series against England. It was left to Vettori, who scored an aggressive 94, to lead New Zealand to 393 and gain a lead of 250.
New Zealand's bowling effort, however, was impeccable. The seamers were consistently in the channel outside off stump and a succession of Bangladesh batsmen perished to tentative prods. Four of the five batsmen dismissed were caught at slip while the other, Junaid Siddique, gloved a pull to wicketkeeper McCullum. It was a clinical display from New Zealand and, at one stage, there was the outside chance of a win on the second evening.
Ironically, Bangladesh's awful display in the field might have helped them stretch the game into the third day. The dropped catches allowed New Zealand to bat longer, giving their bowlers lesser time to take all ten Bangladesh wickets. The visitors spilled as many as four catches in the morning, and allowed New Zealand to dominate despite the lack of a single dominating performance.
Sinclair's knock illustrated how inept the Bangladesh catching was. Mortaza tormented Sinclair with two close lbw appeals off the first two balls he faced. The third found the edge but Tamim Iqbal dropped the catch at first slip and broke his thumb in the process. Sinclair was then let off twice in succession off Shahadat, on 37: the first was a low chance to Mushfiqur Rahim's right, but the next was an easier offering to Mortaza at second slip. Sinclair also survived several lbw shouts but just when he had settled in with some pleasing drives through cover, Shahadat found his edge again and this time he was rewarded.
Sinclair's struggles were not shared by Fleming, who began fluently, slashing Mortaza to third man and driving him down the ground. He moved seamlessly past fifty and it was only when the spinner came on that he made his first error. On 61, Fleming tried to loft Shakib Al Hasan and skied a chance to Shahriar Nafees, who back-pedalled from mid-on and made a feeble one-handed attempt. Fleming cashed in and struck a hat-trick of fours off Mortaza off the next three balls he faced.
Bangladesh's cause was helped by an umpiring error when Jacob Oram was adjudged caught behind off Shahadat though replays suggested the ball had hit the top of Oram's pad. Inspired by his two wickets, Shahadat was fierce after lunch but it was Shakib who broke through, inducing another miscue from Fleming and this time the catch was held at deep midwicket.
With Vettori and McCullum at the crease, Bangladesh were a wicket away from the tail and Shahadat strove to break the partnership. He sent down a series of well-directed short balls at McCullum, who countered by upper-cutting twice to the third-man boundary. Shahadat eventually ran out of steam and that was when it began to unravel for Bangladesh.
Sajidul Islam, the back-up seamer, was unable to bowl a restrictive line and his first over in the second session was a disaster. His first two balls were long-hops and were pulled for fours by Vettori, the next two were more accurate but two outside edges ran to the third-man boundary before another short ball was dispatched through midwicket. The over cost 21 runs and New Zealand had grabbed the initiative by scoring 74 in the first hour after lunch.
Mohammad Ashraful brought himself on and dished out several full tosses which contributed to the fast pace of the Vettori-McCullum partnership: they made 81 runs at 5.28 per over.
Shahadat returned with the second new ball and induced a leading edge to point from McCullum but Vettori stood firm. He, too, benefited from Bangladesh's carelessness: on 70, he chipped Aftab Ahmed gently towards mid-on where Ashraful dropped the easiest offering of the day. He lay on the ground in dismay, with his head turned down. A few balls later Ashraful let a drive slip between his legs at cover, an effort which showed that the fight was long gone.
Vettori took charge, cutting and pulling Sajidul as he accelerated towards his third Test hundred. He didn't get there, popping one back to Aftab when on 94, but his innings, off 87 balls, had helped New Zealand compile a huge lead in quick time.
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