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New Zealand’s Fast Bowlers Chip Away At India

By on April 3, 2009

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New Zealand’s bowlers justified a toss decision which seemed to be a horrible miscalculation, as India slipped from 68 without loss after the first hour to a wobbly 190 for 5 at tea. Most of India’s top-order batsmen got starts, but as had happened in the first innings in Napier, none of them hung around for a huge score as New Zealand increased their hopes of a series-levelling win at a venue which has historically brought out the worst in the Indians.

Daniel Vettori’s decision at the toss seemed to be based more on past record than on current conditions – a brown pitch and bright, sunny conditions – but by tea, it seemed the gamble had worked. All of India’s much-vaunted batsmen, except Rahul Dravid, were back in the hutch, some to clever bowling, and others to poor shot-selection. The openers fell in quick succession, but Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid had put India back on top with a 90-run stand before New Zealand nicked out three in the space of 17 runs to make the afternoon session theirs.

In the first session, there was little to indicate the collapse which would come later. There was some swing on offer early on, but the new-ball bowlers, especially Tim Southee, sprayed it around so liberally that there were boundary opportunities galore. Preferred over Kyle Mills and Jeetan Patel in this line-up, Southee did absolutely nothing to justify that faith. He had been smashed around by the Indians in the one-dayers, and the misery continued on his return to the Test team as well. He repeatedly served wide, swinging half-volleys outside off which Sehwag dispatched with ease. His first spell of six overs leaked 40, and it was a mystery why Vettori didn’t take him off earlier.

When Vettori did ring in the bowling changes, though, it all started to change. O’Brien found his radar immediately and was rewarded soon after, when Sehwag tried to open the face to one that was too close to his body, and nicked to the wicketkeeper. Sehwag fell two short of a half-century, continuing the trend of getting starts and not converting them in this series.

Franklin’s inclusion in the line-up drew plenty of debate – there were enough voices suggesting New Zealand should have strengthened their bowling attack by playing Patel – but he did everything to justify his inclusion. Finding his rhythm from the first ball, he swung a few deliveries away from Gambhir with the seam upright, and then, with seam scrambled, brought one back into him. Gambhir, playing for outswing, was far too late on the shot and was trapped plumb in front.

Immediately after lunch New Zealand had another opportunity, but Dravid’s edge off Franklin came off a no-ball. Dravid was then on 13, and that reprieve allowed him and Tendulkar to put together a substantial partnership.

Tendulkar began slowly – after 21 deliveries he had only scored 2 – but once he gauged the pitch he scored at nearly a run a ball. Southee slipped in a couple of leg-side deliveries which allowed him to flick a couple of fours before lunch, and soon after the break, he unfurled a couple of magnificent square-drives off either foot when the bowlers strayed even marginally outside off. Fittingly, one such stroke, off O’Brien, brought up his half-century, his third fifty-plus score of the series. When Martin tried to test him with a short ball with the first delivery of a new spell, Tendulkar responded with a cheeky ramp shot, leaning back and tipping it high over the slips.

New Zealand, though, persisted with the outside-off-stump line, and it finally paid off when Tendulkar wafted at one without moving his feet across.VVS Laxman repeated that mistake off Southee, finally giving him some joy, and when Yuvraj Singh got himself into a hopeless tangle, shuffling too far across and being given lbw, India had slumped to 182 for 5. Dravid was still standing firm, but New Zealand had clearly wrested the initiative in this must-win game.

S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo

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