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Sidharth Monga in Hamilton
March 19, 2009
There were ten wickets and two hundreds on the first day of the Hamilton Test. The second day was always going to struggle to live up to such excitement and sure enough, India scored only 249 runs and lost just the four wickets. But what the second day lacked in drama, it made up in intensity.
If it was fun watching Daniel Vettori's punchy drives on Wednesday, it was interesting today to watch Gautam Gambhir walk out to pace bowlers to counter the swing. Where it was heart-stopping to watch the minutes before Jesse Ryder reached his century, there was typical sedateness in how Rahul Dravid reached his half-century. The return of the square-cut in the classical mould was an added bonus. If there were several twists and turns on day one, it took a determined effort from Sachin Tendulkar to prevent any towards the end of day two.
The second day had few surprises, but nevertheless it kept the spectator involved. The batsmen were prepared to not play at balls outside off stump. The bowlers realised wickets were not easy to get and were prepared to toil according to their fields.
That said, had Virender Sehwag not got out early - and it needed an almost freakish direct hit - we could have been in for a completely different day. Gambhir, however, put that mix-up behind him and focused on the testing conditions. He might have been given out lbw off the first ball of the day had Kyle Mills not over-stepped. Gambhir was rarely caught on the crease by a swinging ball after that. He was beaten at times when he stepped out and he was slow in the first half of his innings. However he stuck at it and finished with a strike-rate of over 50 after scoring only 11 runs off his first 40 balls.
Dravid displayed immaculate judgment about the location of his off stump and showed that while his kind of batting might be becoming rarer by the day, it is still very important for his team. Dravid left seven out of his first eight balls, two of them close to off and another that moved in, getting close to the line whenever he did so. His second instinct was to take singles, the short boundaries and the fast outfield could wait. Between them Gambhir and Dravid took 33 singles and wore the bowlers down.
When the pitch became easier for batting in the second session, and just when the second-wicket partnership seemed like putting it beyond New Zealand, the bowlers reaped rewards for disciplined bowling. Gambhir got out to a delivery that moved away from round the stumps. Dravid was allowed only two runs off his last 15 balls.
New Zealand utilised their limited resources excellently and did not allow India to run away with the game. If they could be faulted it was for being a touch on the shorter side, especially when the ball lost its hardness. Their other blip was the two difficult chances they failed to take either side of the tea break.
One of the beneficiaries, Sachin Tendulkar, made them pay. He was not his fluent self at the start but was not beaten often either; it was just that New Zealand made it hard for him to score. But Tendulkar waited, taking 11 balls to get off the mark, and once he was settled he played lovely shots. The straight drive off Vettori, the flick off Kyle Mills, and the backfoot punch off Chris Martin to bring up his fifty were his best.
Tendulkar's real test came against Jesse Ryder, who provided New Zealand with imagination when they were running short of ideas. Ryder gave nothing away, got the ball to move a bit, and almost had Tendulkar lbw but for an inside edge.
Tendulkar survived that period, and after Laxman fell in the first over with the second new ball, he stepped up a gear. He hit the new ball six times to the boundary, scoring 30 off 29, and provided India with the decisive edge, which was expected at the start of the day. In achieving that goal though, a new - in terms of this series - route had to be taken. New Zealand made India work hard for runs, India showed they were prepared to do so.
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