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Sidharth Monga in Wellington
April 5, 2009
It was like watching a Ranji Trophy knockout game. India had taken a huge first-innings lead and went about batting New Zealand out of the game. In the Ranji Trophy, the first-innings lead amounts to a win in a drawn game; here, India's 1-0 series lead means it doesn't need to push for a result. It is New Zealand who need to do all the running to force a win that would ensure the series ends in a draw.
New Zealand have now started six consecutive days bowling and have been on the field for some time on each of the last seven days of the series. India today ensured that New Zealand will be bowling at the start of the fourth day as well.
There will be critics of this Indian approach as was the case when they employed 8-1 fields against Australia to defend their series lead in Nagpur last November. But why not grind the opposition when they are down? This Indian team appears to know when to be aggressive and when to let the other team make the mistakes. In Nagpur, Australia were forced to do all the running and lost their wickets in doing so.
This match seems to be heading that way unless New Zealand script a world-record chase. But even their coach, Andy Moles, does not consider that likely. "Well, history will suggest that there are not too many sides who have come successful in this situation," he said.
India hold a 531-run lead, with two days to go, and a declaration does not seem imminent. "One of the things that I have spoken to the guys about is that we have to recognise the time when you have got to learn how to draw a Test match," Moles said. "Certainly this one is shaping into a battle to save the Test match. Whenever we get the opportunity, we need to bat really well.
"But should we get into this game where we can go into the last day with six or seven wickets left and we are in a position to chase down a large score, we will do that. It's all about going into the last day, with lots of wickets in hand. Whatever is given to us, the first thing we need to do is set an early platform."
India need no adventurous declarations; just solid cricket and conserving the bowlers' energy until they need to be unleashed would help achieve that elusive series win. Gautam Gambhir, who was instrumental in keeping New Zealand on the field with his 167, said India was not being defensive.
"We've got two days and the kind of bowling that we have at hand, we can easily get New Zealand out in five sessions," Gambhir said. "If we can't do that, then we don't deserve to win this Test match. We've got quality in the attack, good pace battery and a world-class spinner. I think five sessions is a lot of time for them to handle - we got them out in three sessions in the first innings. It's important that we get to 600-plus and just attack. With 600 runs, psychologically New Zealand will only be looking to survive. They will have a lot of trouble with the kind of bowling attack we've got."
Some may not like this attitude and would have preferred having a crack at New Zealand tonight, but India have just chosen the firmer road to success. Different strokes for different folks.
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