Pacy Bond sets up tantalising finish
If not for early-morning rain and dimming light, today would have been the last day of this topsy-turvy Test, but there could well be a final twist to what promises to be a tantalising finish. West Indies' cruise, made possible by a 148-run opening stand, was abruptly halted by an inspirational spell from Shane Bond, who blasted out four wickets and put New Zealand on the verge of a memorable victory. West Indies needed 45 more, New Zealand required two wickets, and the smattering of spectators at Eden Park will need another set of nails to chew on the fifth day.
Bond's was a scintillating display of fast bowling. Bowling extended spells with accurate pace, Bond broke the back of the West Indian chase with a four-wicket burst after Chris Gayle and Daren Ganga had laid the perfect platfrom with dominant half-centuries. However, with 70 runs to get and three wickets in hand, Denesh Ramdin and Ian Bradshaw defied New Zealand, after Bond had been taken off, during a 25-run partnership. Three balls before the light was offered, Ramdin played one of the most reckless sweeps to deep square leg to give New Zealand their eighth wicket and a sniff at victory.
None of this appeared possible in the first two hours of play, when Gayle and Ganga confidently motored towards the target, causing Stephen Fleming to despair. With none of his strike bowlers providing the breakthrough, Fleming brought on Nathan Astle, a move that eventually proved to be a masterstroke. Astle induced Gayle to edge to slip with his second ball, and in the 15 minutes that followed, the game turned.
Bond forced Ramnaresh Sarwan to retire hurt after cracking him on the back of the helmet and, for the second time in the match, dismissed Brian Lara with his first ball. That was just the appetiser, though, as he, rejuvenated after the break, blew away the middle order. He prised out Dwayne Smith, Sarwan and Dwayne Bravo in successive overs, with the first two caught at slip and the third trapped in front with one that seared into his pads.
He was well supported after tea by Daniel Vettori, who bowled over the wicket and strangled the run-flow by bowling into the rough outside leg stump. His frugality induced Shivnarine Chanderpaul, who had earlier slogged a four over midwicket, to hole out to short midwicket while trying to ease the mounting pressure. While Bond and Vettori kept up the pressure, Astle returned to complete his pair of openers' scalps by dismissing Ganga with the second ball after drinks.
New Zealand might have wrapped it up if not for large chunks of sloppiness on the field. Gayle was dropped on 59 at silly point by Fleming, and Ganga was caught at gully when Martin overstepped. Both openers made New Zealand pay dearly. Gayle forced Franklin out of the attack and after starting cautiously against Vettori, used brute force to cut and drive him on the off side. He even lost the ball when he carted the first of his two sixes over wide long-on. Only Bond managed to trouble him, hurrying him for pace but Gayle still belted the wide ball through covers.
Ganga's was a more composed innings. He left anything too close to cut but pounced when offered width. He had a stroke of luck at the start when an inside edge missed his stumps but thereafter was fluent as he milked the off side for 80% of his runs. Even during Bond's fierce spell after tea, Ganga wasn't flustered and waited patiently to put the lose ball away.
In spite of their hard work, the middle order threw it all away. And Ramdin will rue his mindless swipe all the more because, a few overs earlier, he had skied a pull to Martin who had dropped a dolly at midwicket. Bradshaw is no bunny with the bat, as his heroics in the 2004 Champions Trophy final testified, but he will need a lot of help from his tail-end partners if West Indies are to engineer another twist.
Chris Gayle c Fleming b Astle 82 (148 for 1)
Slashed one too close to the body to first slip
Brian Lara b Bond 0 (157 for 2)
Moved too far across and exposed leg stump
Shivnarine Chanderpaul c Fulton b Vettori 15 (182 for 3)
Bottom edged a slog to short midwicket
Daren Ganga c How b Astle 95 (211 for 4)
Scooped a wide half-volley to gully
Dwayne Smith c Fleming b Bond 5 (216 for 5) Nicked straight to first slip
Ramnaresh Sarwan c Styris b Bond 4 (218 for 6) Thick outside edge, sharp catch at second slip
Dwayne Bravo lbw Bond (221 for 7)
Trapped in front of middle and leg
Denesh Ramdin c Franklin b Vettori 15 (248 for 8)
Swept in the air to deep square leg
George Binoy is editorial assistant of Cricinfo