West Indies start well in quest of 291
This absorbing Test is now headed for denouement. After another day of see-saw battle West Indies go to the fourth day - which is likely to be the final one, barring bad weather - with more than just a sniff of their first overseas win against opponents other than Bangladesh and Zimbabwe in six years. Chasing 291 is by no means easy, but Chris Gayle, who played a big part in restricting New Zealand on a flat third-day pitch, has kept the West Indian hopes alive by stitching together a confident 48-run opening partnership with Daren Ganga.
The last time West Indies won a meaningful Test abroad was against England at Birmingham in June 2000. Today they scrapped all day, to give themselves a realistic shot at another. They had a perfect first session, conceding just 63 runs and striking thrice, as New Zealand were reduced to 161 for 7 at lunch. Brendon McCullum fought back with 74 and strung together half-century partnerships with Daniel Vettori and Shane Bond to push New Zealand's lead to 290 in the afternoon. Gayle ensured that West indies finished the day on a high note, taking four wickets to wrap up the tail and scoring 28 as they went into the fourth day needing 243 runs for victory with all wickets intact.
Going into the match with just three specialist bowlers, and with Jerome Taylor struggling with a hamstring injury, it was imperative that Ian Bradshaw and Fidel Edwards struck in the morning while still fresh. Bradshaw conceded two boundaries to Stephen Fleming in a wayward first over but soon trapped him, offering no shot, with one that cut back in. The passage of play that followed Fleming's wicket was in stark contrast to what had happened on the last two days. James Franklin, the nightwatchman, proved difficult to dislodge and Nathan Astle curbed his attacking instincts and judiciously left deliveries outside the off stump, when in the first innings he had flashed at everything.
Bradshaw and Gayle, who extracted considerable turn, dried up the runs as New Zealand were content to defend. Gayle eventually castled Franklin, playing back to a quicker delivery. McCullum accentuated New Zealand's misery with a silly call that ran out Astle. Daren Ganga's electric fielding at gully, diving to his right to make a one-handed save and following up with a direct hit, found Astle short at the strikers' end.
With one wicket between West Indies and the New Zealand tail, Denesh Ramdin grassed Daniel Vettori just before lunch and paid dearly for his second drop of the match. Vettori settled in with a crunching straight-drive and a square-cut to the fence and took singles with ease through the off side to ease the pressure.
Shivnarine Chanderpaul had bowled Bradshaw for 14 straight overs before lunch and three after, and was forced replace him with Dwayne Smith. To keep the lead from rapidly ticking over, he deployed defensive fields to save the boundaries.
McCullum had begun his innings cautiously, without a trace of his frantic hitting in the first innings. With easy singles on offer and innocuous bowling at one end, McCullum got into his stride and added 64 risk-free runs with Vettori for the eighth wicket. He was severe on Gayle when he pitched up, driving him through cover for consecutive fours. Fidel Edwards was brought back after Smith proved unpenetrative, and McCullum pummelled him down the ground and clouted him over midwicket for six.
He didn't shield Shane Bond after Vettori fell, and obliged when West Indies offered him singles to get him off strike. Bond defied West Indies for 81 balls, contributing 18 to the 62-run partnership for the ninth wicket. McCullum's dismissal, edging a low catch to first slip off Gayle, heralded the end of the innings on 272.
Gayle followed his four-wicket haul with an unbeaten 28 to shepherd West Indies safely to stumps as they sought to achieve the second highest fourth-innings total at Eden Park. His partner Ganga was solid during his evening vigil and cut and drove Franklin and Chris Martin to the cover fence. Gayle survived a few testing moments at the start but cashed in on Martin's poor length and pulled twice to the midwicket boundary to end the day as West Indies' unlikely hero.
Stephen Fleming lbw Bradshaw 33 (118 for 5)
Padded up to one that nipped back in
James Franklin b Gayle 20 (143 for 6)
Went back to a quicker delivery
Nathan Astle run out Daren Ganga 13 (146 for 7) Direct hit from gully after a diving stop
Daniel Vettori c (sub) Devon Smith b Gayle 33 (210 for 8)
Sliced to point
Brendon McCullum c Bravo b Gayle 74 (272 for 9)
Low catch to the left at slip
Chris Martin b Gayle 0 (272 all out)
Missed a flatter delivery
George Binoy is editorial assistant of Cricinfo