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April 3, 2009
On a day of frenetic action in which the pendulum swung in favour of both teams several times, India edged ahead with a late-order revival lifting them to a respectable first-innings total of 375 for 9. New Zealand would be fairly satisfied with the fact that they managed nine wickets after inserting the opposition in good batting conditions - a brown pitch, and bright, sunny conditions - but it could have been much better for them had they kept India's lower order in check in the final session, which yielded an astonishing 185 runs in 35 overs.
When India went into the tea break at 190 for 5, the honours were clearly with New Zealand: they had recovered from a fearful hammering in the first hour, when Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir clobbered 68, and prised out the entire Indian heavyweight top order except Rahul Dravid. And when Dravid fell for a patient 35 soon after, India had slumped to 204 for 6, and were perhaps staring at a total of around 250.
However, the Indians still had their captain, MS Dhoni, who returned after recovering from a bad back. He made his presence felt in no uncertain terms, running urgently between the wickets with Harbhajan Singh during an action-packed 79-run stand that shifted the momentum towards India. Dhoni had a few lucky escapes at the start, while Harbhajan mistimed enough shots to keep the fielders interested, but the batsmen rode their luck, and with the new ball still a few overs away, took heavy toll of Vettori's left-arm spin.
With the batsmen attempting extravagant strokes, it was almost inevitable that one of them would lead to a dismissal. But the innings didn't fold up when Dhoni top-edged a pull. Harbhajan kept swinging away, even when New Zealand took the second new ball, adding 33 more with Zaheer Khan, who then took over the fight, creaming four fours off successive balls from Iain O'Brien, backing away, making room, and heaving it to the boundary. Munaf Patel and Ishant Sharma continued the fun, ensuring India ended the day in much higher spirits than they had been at tea.
Until the lower-order fightback, though, India's innings was reminiscent of the way they played in the first innings in Napier, where they got starts, and then attempted extravagant strokes to throw it away. There were three significant partnerships, for the first, third and seventh wickets, but these were interspersed by a flurry of wickets, which ensured that the visitors were never totally dominant, except in the first hour when Sehwag and Gambhir completely dominated a listless new-ball attack, hammering 68 in 14 overs.
To New Zealand's credit, they recovered from that onslaught. James Franklin took only one wicket - and was denied Dravid's scalp because he over-stepped - but he was the pick of the bowlers. He had the backing of the captain despite taking no wicket in the first two Tests, and he justified that with plenty of discipline and skill, moving the ball both ways from an excellent line. The way he dismissed Gambhir was perhaps the only instance of a wicket-taking delivery dismissing a top-order batsman: after swinging several balls away from the left-hander, he bowled one with the scrambled seam which moved in and completely flummoxed Gambhir, trapping him plumb in front.
For the most part, though, the Indians were guilty of throwing it away with poor shot-selection. Sehwag's 51-ball cameo probably lulled the others into extravagance. Taking full advantage of the wide, swinging half-volleys that Tim Southee bowled, Sehwag got the innings off to an astonishing start, creaming a six over point in only the fourth over of the day, and then spanking several drives through the covers. He fell trying to force one too close to his body, off Iain O'Brien, and that set the template for the dismissal of at least a couple of other top-order mates, as both Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman edged attempting forceful shots.
Tendulkar, though, displayed all his class in a fluent knock of 62 before he fell. The feature of his innings was the square-drive, which he executed with perfect balance off either foot, repeatedly piercing the ball into gaps in front of, or behind point. When Chris Martin pitched one short, Tendulkar even managed to lean away and tap it over the slips. During his 90-run partnership with Dravid, India had recovered the ascendancy, only for New Zealand to fight back just before tea, taking three quick wickets, including that of a hopelessly clumsy Yuvraj Singh. He reopened debates about his inclusion in the Test team with a soft dismissal, falling over so far that he was trapped in front by a straight delivery from Jesse Ryder. That, though, signalled Dhoni's entry, and the beginning of India's fightback.
By the time 90 overs were finally done, the crowds at Basin Reserve had witnessed 49 fours, three sixes, and nine wickets, all adding up to a day of whopping entertainment.
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