'We needed to show character and did that'
There is a resilience about this Indian team that makes people think twice before writing them off, and that quality came to the fore again on the fourth day in Napier. There is no doubt that they had themselves dug the hole they were in. And though they aren't fully out of it yet, the way they have made half their way back up speaks a lot for the character in the side.
Rahul Dravid, who scored his second half-century of the match and played a key role in India's comeback on the fourth day, summed it up perfectly. "We knew that we didn't have any chance to win the Test," he said. "We needed to protect the 1-0 lead. We needed to show character and did that. We could have easily come here and got rolled over, but we have fought back hard and have kept them on the field for a long time."
Following on and trailing by 267 with two days to go, India needed to perform one of the most difficult tasks in modern-day Test cricket - bat out time. It required a big effort from Dravid, Gautam Gambhir and Sachin Tendulkar to bring India back. Dravid batted for 241 minutes, Gambhir was still unbeaten after more than seven hours of batting, and Tendulkar scored a brisk unbeaten half-century to take the pressure off.
"It was a mentally demanding day," Dravid said. "I thought in the first session New Zealand came out and bowled well. They knew they had a sniff and they had their tails up. They came and really challenged me and Gautam up there in the first session. It was a tough day mentally, and hats off to Gautam for being there through till the end of the day. He showed at lot of character. A Test innings like this will go a long way in a young career. He will learn a lot from a day like this in Test cricket."
Dravid himself was under extra pressure because it was his careless dismissal in the first innings that had triggered a collapse when India looked well on their way to avoiding the follow-on. "We had a one bad hour when batting," Dravid said. "After I got out, that was when things went wrong for us, but I think we have corrected that to some extent."
If Dravid was disappointed by his dismissal in the first innings, the one in the second innings would have probably frustrated him more. He had done all the hard work again, looked good for another century, and had to go off due to an umpiring mistake. But once the day was over, he could maintain his equanimity over that.
"At that instant, you do get disappointed. But once you have a cold shower and you sit down and you have some time to ponder about it and reflect on it, you get a better perspective on it." It would have been tough to be as understanding had it resulted in another collapse.
As it happened, Tendulkar and Gambhir made sure no other wicket fell till stumps. At the end of the day, India looked good to save the Test, but Dravid knew it was far from over. "We know that New Zealand will come hard at us in the first two hours [of the final day]," Dravid said. "That is their only chance.
"It has been a long time for them on the field. They have fought hard and they will go for one big effort and that is what we have to be wary of. We have to know that we can't be complacent and that we cannot think that this Test is over. We have to show the same mental discipline that we showed today."
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo