Taylor and Ryder carry resurgent New Zealand
Ross Taylor wasn't at his fluent best at McLean Park but, on a day when almost everything went his way, he didn't need to be. He swished, flashed and edged but luck was on his side and he was dropped twice. He eventually battled his way to a third Test century to give New Zealand some much-needed oomph. Riding shotgun at first before stepping into the driver's seat was Jesse Ryder, with his second century of the series, and New Zealand finished what had started as a disastrous day in a dominant position.
There were significant moments right from the start of this Test. For starters, Virender Sehwag walked out to toss instead of MS Dhoni, who was ruled out with a sore back. Then Daniel Vettori won the toss and chose to bat on a pitch that was a source of discussion because of a supposed fungal infection on the surface, and one he described as not having a consistent grass cover. That was followed by an almost typical New Zealand start with three wickets falling for just 23.
At that stage it appeared Vettori's call for his batsmen to play out at least 120 overs had fallen on deaf ears, but a record fourth-wicket partnership for New Zealand that followed vindicated his decision to bat. Taylor and Ryder put on an excellent rearguard effort and reached significant centuries.
Perhaps sensing this was the chance to get himself into form after an indifferent ODI series and two scratchy innings in Hamilton, Taylor played an innings filled with fiery and chancy shots. He had a slice of fortune on 4 when Yuvraj Singh was unable to latch on to a thick outside edge at third slip. Taylor continued to attack, edging three of four boundaries in one Munaf Patel over, and initially had the bowlers hoping that he would play one shot too many.
Taylor and Ryder carried on tenaciously, with the third-man area proving most lucrative for Taylor in particular, who nicked and slashed through the slips and gully. All of the four primary bowlers were unlucky throughout, with many edges falling short of fielders or going over their heads. When Rahul Dravid failed to hold a tough catch at slip with Taylor on 92, India's hopes of preventing Taylor's innings from swelling to three figures were dashed.
The milestone came on the stroke of tea with another squirt through gully and Taylor soaked up the applause from his home crowd. The angst gone, Taylor laced two more boundaries in the over before tea and on resumption he hit a six off Harbhajan. In the last 90 minutes of the day Taylor was placing the ball at will, as a fierce cut, a straight punch over Munaf and a slash to third man in one over exemplified. But his decision to slog one from outside off stump got him out just short of his Test best. India had a running, tumbling Yuvraj at deep square leg to thank for the breakthrough.
Unlike Taylor, Ryder combined a craftsman's patience with an artist's flair. He has been the scourge of India's bowlers and once again he tormented them with an innings that blended straight-bat defiance with dabs of panache. Having partnered Vettori to a century on day one of the series opener, Ryder understood his role and had no qualms about playing second fiddle as long as Taylor was around.
Ryder's approach was simple: if the ball was on the stumps, he would defend, and if it was wide enough, he would put it away. He bided his time against the seamers and blossomed against spin after edging one off Harbhajan between slip and the wicketkeeper, Dinesh Karthik. But Ryder is someone who tempers the old game with new age flair and he found time to slog Virender Sehwag for four and six.
Once he reached his hundred, and more so after Taylor departed, Ryder opted for caution over charisma. The bat came down straight, the head remained still and the eyes were steely. Ryder had the chance to bat longer with batsmen still to follow. With James Franklin, who was lucky that Billy Doctrove didn't spot an edge and Yuvraj spilled a sitter at slip, Ryder added a further 57 to the total.
There has been considerable discussion about the shortcomings of this New Zealand side in the first few months of 2009. A lot of it has centred around the inexperienced batting line-up, of which Taylor is the most accomplished and qualified. His side needed a hundred from him and Taylor stepped up when New Zealand were 23 for 3. Ryder, in his eighth Test, played a mature innings and again proved just why he has been talked of as a special talent since his formative years.
Jamie Alter is a senior sub-editor at Cricinfo