<
>

Best day of series saw New Zealand bat their way to win

It took six days of Test cricket before genuine Test match conditions were available and New Zealand had played themselves into the best position to take their second victory of the National Bank series when beating India by four wickets at Hamilton today.

This will long be remembered as a Test series dominated by New Zealand's miserable early-summer weather, where bouncy pitches were complicated by excessive sideways movement.

But it will also be recalled as a series where New Zealand took their chances, and after a dreadful first day of catching in Wellington, they lifted their act so impressively that they never dropped a chance for the remainder of the series. And with so much movement creating so many edges that was crucial.

Such had been the competitive nature of this match that it was the first time since England played Australia in 1981 that any batsman had failed to score a half century in a Test. Of the 13 occasions in which that statistical oddity had occurred, this was only the second time, after the Birmingham Test 21 years ago, it involved a covered pitch.

Yet out of the disappointment of an uneven contest, where the conditions dictated more than any self-respecting cricket connoisseur would want, a marvellous last day emerged full of all the intensity that is associated with Test cricket at its best.

India fought superbly. They lacked the firepower of New Zealand, but left-arm medium pacers Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra were outstanding, while Tinu Yohannan was accurate and unrelenting in his control.

Had the match been a day older, and New Zealand chasing another 100 runs, off spinner Harbhajan Singh would have been a big player in this game. But circumstance dictated otherwise and the New Zealanders, with the same patience that has served them so well in much of their successful cricket over the last 12 months, ground down the margin until two newcomers in Jacob Oram, in his second Test, and Robbie Hart, in his fifth, were able to stay together while the last 24 runs were scored.

It had been a restless morning for New Zealand. The run rate had been laborious, and rightfully so given the state of the match. But no-one in the large pre-Christmas crowd was complaining.

Ninety-six runs were added in the elongated morning session, and five wickets fell - just the sort of script to have the cricket purists salivating.

Lou Vincent was the first of the New Zealanders to be dismissed, hanging his bat to a ball from Yohannan that was comfortably taken by wicket-keeper Parthiv Patel. Vincent scored nine in 79 minutes and off 52 balls.

Mark Richardson kept the prospect of errors to a minimum until a lovely ball from left-armer Nehra straightened up on him and took the edge to give Patel the catch. Patel's response, and that of his team-mates suggested they were well aware of the importance of Richardson's wicket to their own aspirations of victory.

Skipper Stephen Fleming seemed to set himself to bat the team home. He worked the quick singles, and also took advantage of Khan tiring toward the end of his first spell to hit three fours in four balls.

He and Craig McMillan, who was sorely in need of a good performance, had added 37 runs for the third wicket, when an attempted pull shot by Fleming, a shot that has not succeeded at all in this Test, was skied high to mid-on where Khan and bowler Nehra did their best to foul up the catching chance. But Khan was steadfast and completed the catch to dismiss Fleming for 32, scored in 87 minutes.

McMillan got his scoring underway with four behind square off Yohannan and was untroubled in coming down the pitch to Harbhajan and hitting him for six over long on. Harbhajan bowled only two overs, conceding 14 runs before being taken off.

But McMillan was the next man to depart, at 90, when Nehra trapped him leg before wicket for 18.

Nathan Astle saw the 100-up, a vital psychological boost for New Zealand, with Scott Styris. However, five runs later he attempted to swing a leg-side ball behind square only to be beaten by the bounce, gloving the ball to Patel to be out for 14.

Styris and Oram reached 120 by lunch and were going well after the break until Styris tried a cut shot against Harbhajan and had the faintest tickle taken by Patel to be out for 17 with New Zealand 136/6.

Hart, playing on his home ground strode out to find Oram taking control. Oram's batting in the two earlier innings he played showed nothing of the potential he possesses, but there was no doubt this time.

A flowing cover drive from Harbhajan signalled his attitude and he backed that up with a lovely square drive to the boundary off Nehra. New Zealand couldn't miss out and when a run out attempt of Hart, which would have been successful had it hit, produced four overthrows to take them within seven, the damage was well and truly done.

The two batsmen just worked the ball around and Hart was able to flick the winning single off his hip to give New Zealand the win.

The Indian pressure was outstanding and Nehra, especially, with this three for 43, kept the home team on their guard. Harbhajan really needed more runs to bowl at while Khan's figures do not reflect the menace he represented.

In the final outcome, New Zealand played the conditions best, and while they are more used to them, they certainly are not expert in dealing with the movement off the pitch that occurred in the series. They had the benefit of winning the toss in both matches, but they also had the better bowling attack under the circumstances to make best use of the conditions and that ultimately told the story of the series.