Gambhir leads India's fight for survival
Gautam Gambhir's unbeaten 102 won't be released on a highlights DVD anytime soon, but it was an invaluable contribution to his team's cause. Thwarting Daniel Vettori's canny guile and staving off everything New Zealand threw at him, Gambhir constructed his fifth and most attentive century - and his first outside the subcontinent - to help India crawl towards their distant goal of saving the Napier Test. Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar weighed in with crucial innings, and the fact that New Zealand's only wicket today was because of an umpiring error was indicative of India's control.
It was a tough, combative performance from India's batsmen while New Zealand were disciplined, rather than dangerous, and gave away only 205 runs in the day. But they lacked the edge to roll India over a second time on a track which was getting easier to bat on. When Dravid departed because of a wrong call shortly before tea India trailed by 178 runs. Mild shadows were already spreading across McLean Park when Tendulkar began to steadily build on the base built by Dravid and Gambhir.
In the same over, Tendulkar scampered a single to raise his fifty off 89 balls and Gambhir skipped down and collected four over mid-on to reach his hundred. He didn't stop there and ensured he batted through the day. Against England in Mohali, Gambhir had batted 214 balls for his century. Today's effort surpassed that for durability and given the immense pressure India were under should rank up there with his double-century against Australia last year. Ball by ball, minute by minute, over by over, Gambhir gnawed at a controlling New Zealand attack.
Unlike Dravid, who has a reservoir of patience, Gambhir had to restrain himself and he did so admirably. Gambhir hit two flowing boundaries in the first 45 minutes of the day - square drives off Chris Martin and Iain O'Brien - but then crawled along. A naturally attacking batsman against spin, Gambhir had to adopt a restrained approach against two crafty slow bowlers. It was captivating.
You could sense he wanted to go after Jeetan Patel yet had to curb his aggression. So if the ball was wide he mostly resisted playing and repeatedly thrust his pad at it. There was only one anxious clip to mid-on and one hit over mid-off for four against Patel. He crossed 2000 Test runs today, the third fastest Indian to do so after Virender Sehwag. Known for his flair, Gambhir proved he could be dour, a trait India will be thankful for.
The other man to thank was Dravid. Before this tour his critics were questioning his form and two crucial half-centuries should silence everyone. Dravid carried heavy responsibility on his shoulders - not least because of his dismissal yesterday, which was the start of a collapse - but went about his business with great skill and efficiency. With stubborn support from Gambhir, he added 72 in the first session.
India were in such a somber mood that only six boundaries were scored in the second session. Buoyed by their defiance in the morning, Dravid and Gambhir restarted with confidence and brought up their century stand. Dravid got his fifty off 180 balls but his vigil was undone with a habitual forward defensive to Patel, caught by Jamie How at short leg. Unfortunately for Dravid replays showed there was no bat on ball.
New Zealand took the second new ball soon after the tea break but were attacked by Tendulkar. Twenty-two runs came in the first four overs with the new ball: Tendulkar hit three boundaries in one Martin over and another against O'Brien in the next. He also flicked a four and pulled a six off the same bowler. It was vintage Tendulkar, while at the other end Gambhir took 32 balls to score his first run of the session.
New Zealand appeared to employ the come-and-get-me strategy, using spin primarily and not placing much faith in pace. There was no swing for the fast bowlers, so the approach from Vettori and Patel was to keep it tight just outside off stump. India's recovery has set up an enthralling final day. New Zealand need to regroup and focus on playing intense cricket, much as India did today.
Jamie Alter is a senior sub-editor at Cricinfo