At Mohali, October 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 2003. Drawn. Toss: New Zealand. Test debut: Yuvraj Singh.
There are times when John Wright, India's Kiwi coach, must feel like dropping to
his knees and kissing the feet of V. V. S. Laxman. It was Laxman, after all, who saved
Wright's skin at Kolkata in 2001, his epic 281 setting the scene for one of Test cricket's
most famous wins. And he was at it again here at Mohali, first compiling an unbeaten
century as India fell just seven short of the follow-on mark, and then defying New
Zealand for most of the final day to consign the Second Test, and the series, to an
Indian administrators are not known for their tolerance when their team lose at home, and Wright would have been in the firing line had the side folded. After four days of relentless batting dominance, the final day threw up an absorbing arm-wrestle, and it was left to Laxman to guide India to safety. It had begun when a supercharged Tuffey produced by far his best performance outside New Zealand: he took four first-innings wickets, effected a brilliant run-out, and then had India reeling with three second-innings strikes before lunch.
Tuffey, whose record away from home had been mediocre, had Sehwag and Dravid
caught behind, and then produced a peach of an off-cutter to rattle Tendulkar's stumps,
reducing India to 18 for three. At that stage they were still 188 in arrears, but any
thoughts that New Zealand were to gain a series win on Indian soil had to be put on
hold as Laxman joined up with Chopra and frustrated them for the best part of five
Chopra, in only his second Test, produced a mature innings that dripped with
application, hitting his second half-century of the match off 159 balls. Dravid led India
in a Test for the first time because Ganguly needed minor surgery for an abscess on
his thigh; his place went to Yuvraj Singh, making his Test debut on his home ground.
As for India's attack, it appeared flat for most of the series, although it was the
local groundsmen who copped most of the flak, on account of two Test pitches that
favoured the batsmen for all five days. After the stalemate at Ahmedabad, a stream of
centuries, records and batting milestones blew away any hopes that the Second Test
pitch might prove more challenging for run-scoring, leaving both teams in agreement
over the need for change.
The consolation for New Zealand, at least, was that they were able to maintain
control of the match after some compelling batting on the first two and a half days.
Their first-innings total of 630 for six declared was studded with four centuries, the
last from McMillan, who was unbeaten on 100 when Fleming ended the Indians'
misery. Along with Richardson, Styris and Vincent, McMillan made batting look
ridiculously easy. It was only the second time in New Zealand's Test history that four
batsmen had scored centuries in the same innings, following Perth in 2001-02, when
Vincent was again one of the four.
Records came and went: it was the first time that New Zealand's first three batsmen
had hit centuries; it was New Zealand's highest overseas total; and only the second
time a New Zealand side had scored more than 600 anywhere. Only three other touring
sides had scored bigger totals in India. Just to emphasise the batting dominance, Sehwag
still had time to romp to a century before stumps on the third day, at which stage
more than 800 runs had been scored for the loss of just seven wickets. The bowlers
upped the ante after that, but the batsmen - and the pitch - had the final say.
Man of the Match: D. R. Tuffey. Man of the Series: V. V. S. Laxman.