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Sidharth Monga in Napier
March 28, 2009
Rahul Dravid will be one ticked-off man today. He certainly didn't hide it. After playing almost flawlessly throughout, and making another Test century look a certainty, he threw it away with a careless shot to a part-timer, two overs before the new ball was due. More than the century he missed, he would have been livid about where he left India, who were looking to avoid the follow-on, and folded after his dismissal. All through his walk back to the dressing room, he kept admonishing himself.
The standards Dravid sets himself are higher than what he achieved today. The standards the Indian team set themselves should be higher than what they achieved today. To criticise Virender Sehwag for playing attacking cricket - no matter the time of the day - will be unfair, but his shot selection - a pre-meditated sweep off a spinner - two evenings in a row should leave him more cross with himself than Dravid was with his own dismissal.
Unlike Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh, Dinesh Karthik and Gautam Gambhir still have a second chance, but they can't be sleeping peacefully after the way they played in the first innings. It will be a difficult task for all of them, though. In the first innings, they could entertain hopes of matching, or perhaps even overhauling, the New Zealand score and attempt to force an unlikely result. But now they know they face one of the most difficult tasks in Test cricket - to bat out time, with two days left in the game, and a win nowhere in sight.
It will test the resolve, the technical proficiency and mental strength of the batsmen to the fullest. But Dravid looked forward to the long grind, and didn't send out a nightwatchman; that was a good sign. VVS Laxman, who was quite captivating to watch during his 76 before he became part of the big fat collapse, shared the positivity.
"Yeah definitely [we think we can save the Test]," Laxman said. "We are quite positive. We've done some amazing things in the past. We take a lot of confidence from what we have achieved in the past. It's one more opportunity to do something special, and we have done that in the past - where we have come out of some tough situations as recently as in December when we won a Test match chasing almost 400 runs against England in the final innings. So the team has the opportunity to do something special."
Laxman also defended Yuvraj, who is having a horrid Test. Yuvraj first dropped two catches in the slips, where he wouldn't even have been, but for the finger injury Sachin Tendulkar sustained in Hamilton. He then poked at the new ball, outside off, without any foot movement. He was later seen lapping the ground after the day's play was over, and all had retired to the dressing rooms.
"He's getting ready for the opportunity that's given to him," Laxman said. "It's so unfortunate that one innings someone fails you put pressure on him. He has done tremendously well in both forms of the game. He has won us a Test match against England, and played really well in the second Test in Mohali, and recently had a wonderful one-day series. He's an amazing talent who is potentially a match-winner and one of the best talents India has produced." Yuvraj better get ready, because if he comes in with India still in deficit, he will have to bat out of his skin.
India can take heart from the fact that the pitch has no demons, and will most likely have none for the rest of the Test. But apart from that they have little to lean on. Their show in the field, compared to what New Zealand managed today, was uninspired. Their batting in this Test has lacked the big ruthless partnerships. In fact they lacked huge partnerships in Hamilton, too. The biggest stand there was 115, for the seventh wicket, which came after New Zealand's dispiriting performance.
Like Laxman said today, and like Zaheer Khan yesterday, this team prides itself in coming out of difficult situations they get into. Apart from the Chennai Test that Laxman mentioned, the other such example in recent past is the Bangalore Test last year. Over the next two days, India will be defending that pride.
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