"Yeah definitely," was VVS Laxman's response when asked on day three if India could save this Test. Two days later he was in the middle walking the talk and helped India pull off a great escape with his 14th Test century. Along with an epic from Gautam Gambhir, the last of India's veteran troika had helped India inch their necks in front before Yuvraj Singh's carefree hand cracked a tired attack. India's batting efforts in the second innings, spanning 180 overs, ensured a draw and a 1-0 lead going to Wellington Friday.
For the second day running Daniel Vettori and his bowlers had struggled to raise themselves in a match they appeared to have in the bag not too long ago. India were on the back foot for three days, but New Zealand failed to keep them there. Vettori will know his side can compete but what will rankle is the fact that they failed to recreate the intensity of the first three days. After a while, the task of toiling for every Indian wicket just got too difficult on a flat track.
When Laxman pulled the 835th delivery of India's follow-on innings to the square-leg boundary shortly after lunch on the final day, India had wiped out the 314-run deficit. "What this is, is Rigor-esque," Ian Smith commented, comparing India's dour, obstinate rearguard to the batting efforts of Mark Richardson, who was nicknamed Rigor for his ability to long periods without scoring runs. Richardson would have been proud to have batted for as long, and with as much discipline, as the Indians did.
India should have been four down with a lead of just 13 but Iain O'Brien juggled and dropped an absolute sitter at mid-on when Gambhir chipped Vettori in the air. Despite O'Brien's generosity India needed to see out the session to get out of trouble. Gambhir was finally dismissed, given lbw to Jeetan Patel. His 137 spanned 643 minutes and 436 deliveries.
India's lead was just 42 and that brought out the new ball immediately, and nearly another wicket. Yuvraj's attempt to flick over midwicket resulted in a thick leading edge that evaded cover. Just six boundaries dotted the first session, but India hit 17 in the second, four each by Laxman and Yuvraj in 21 balls before tea against a very tired attack.
There were further gems off Laxman's bat in the first over after tea - three boundaries to different parts of McLean Park. Two more in another disappointing O'Brien over raised three figures, received with warm applause from a thin crowd and a raucous Indian dressing room. This was not the first time a Laxman century had bailed India out and spread cheer.
The shots shunned for five sessions came out in full flow. The 100 partnership with Yuvraj took just 59 minutes as boundaries flew about. The hard work done by those before him, Yuvraj breezed his way to a fifty from 61 balls, punctuated with ten punchy boundaries. Laxman remained unbeaten on 124 while Yuvraj picked up some needed form as the game was drawn.
None of this was possible without Gambhir. With Tendulkar gone early in the day, nicking a loose drive behind for 64, the workload on Gambhir had increased exponentially but he handled the pressure as he had all of day four: with utter confidence. Gambhir, displaying Chanderpaul-like prudence, was once again content to play well within his limitations. His innings remained out of character but was just what India needed to bind the innings together. He only scored 17 runs all morning and 21 in the afternoon, going past his previous longest Test innings, the 550 minutes he batted for a double-century against Australia last year.
Laxman offered solid support. He let deliveries go which he caressed away during the first innings and padded away plenty of what Vettori sent his way. Laxman had no option but to drop anchor. The Gambhir-Laxman partnership of 96 developed at just under two runs an over - the kind of dignified pace that Gambhir would have tended to believe until yesterday was beneath his dignity - but it was just what was needed.
The contributions of Rahul Dravid and Tendulkar in both innings also need a mention. It was a great escape indeed. Test cricket teaches you that good things come to those who wait. India waited, and maintained their 1-0 lead.
Jamie Alter is a senior sub-editor at Cricinfo