Taylor fifty keeps New Zealand fighting
There was a world record for Rahul Dravid and four wickets before tea but a combination of bad light and an obdurate fifth-wicket partnership held up India's victory charge at the Basin Reserve after they had set New Zealand a target of 617. Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh took two wickets apiece and New Zealand's hopes of surviving into the final day rested largely with Ross Taylor, who played some swashbuckling strokes on his way to 69. He added 83 with James Franklin to rebuild the innings, and when played was called off 21 overs early, the draw remained a viable option. Earlier, India had batted till drinks in an extended 150-minute morning session, adding 85 to their overnight score of 349 for 5 before Zaheer traded bat and pads for the shiny new ball.
Martin Guptill and Taylor had taken the score to 84 when a sensational over from Harbhajan put India in command. Bowling from round the wicket, he got drift, bounce and sharp turn. Guptill, who had played some lovely drives and a couple of punishing pulls for six, was one short of his half-century when Harbhajan trapped him in front with one that turned sharply. Two balls later, Jesse Ryder completed a poor Test by nicking one low to Dravid at slip.
It was the third wicket that India took in the session, and as has so often been the case in recent times it was Zaheer who did all the early damage. He bowled 15 overs unchanged either side of lunch, and troubled every batsmen with his pace and angle. Tim McIntosh struggled again, before an edge to third slip shortly before lunch sparked off loud celebrations. It was Dravid's 182nd catch, one better than Mark Waugh, and the ball received a grateful kiss once it had settled into the hands.
Daniel Flynn also didn't last long, with a bit of inward movement from Zaheer inducing an inside-edge on to the stumps. It would have been even worse if not for a TV referral that reprieved Taylor when he had made just 9. In real time, Taylor walked after turning a Harbhajan delivery into the hands of Gautam Gambhir at short leg. But as he walked off, he stopped to observe the replay on the giant screen. The umpires then decided for a second opinion and after multiple replays, the third umpire ruled that Gambhir had taken it on the bounce.
Taylor abandoned circumspection after that, taking Ishant Sharma for three fours in an over when he came on to replace Zaheer, and repeating the dose with a pull and cut for four just before the kettle was put on. The New Zealand camp though wasn't in very bubbly mood, with Taylor and the prospect of fifth-day rain representing their best chance of escape.
An unbeaten 56 from MS Dhoni had provided the impetus as India started the day in a tearing hurry. Dhoni crashed Chris Martin through the covers twice and worked another delivery behind point. And after taking a few deliveries to get his eye in, Yuvraj Singh joined in, taking 18 from an Iain O'Brien over. A cut behind point was followed by a neat tuck behind square and two disdainful pulls, the second of which comfortably cleared the rope.
When Daniel Vettori brought himself on, Yuvraj swept powerfully for four, but his statuesque footwork against pace cost him what would have been a rapid half-century. Taylor took a smart catch at first slip after Yuvraj flailed at a Martin delivery and three balls later, Harbhajan had joined his Punjab team-mate in the pavilion, checking a pull to fine leg, where Tim Southee juggled twice before holding on while lying prone.
With the wind swirling around, New Zealand then strung together some tight overs as Dhoni twice went to change his bat. After thwacking Franklin through the covers for four more, he reached his half-century from 77 balls, while showing little sign that the declaration was imminent. It was left to Zaheer to swing Vettori a mile over long-on for a huge six as the lead went past 600. After the batting frolic though, it was time to finish the job with the ball and by tea, India were nearly halfway there. But with the light deteriorating rapidly and Taylor and Franklin defiant, the final session didn't quite go according to plan.
Dileep Premachandran is an associate editor at Cricinfo