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Zaheer And Harbhajan Rattle New Zealand

By on April 4, 2009

zaheer khan

Two outstanding spells by Zaheer Khan broke the back of the New Zealand top order as India assumed the ascendancy at tea on the second day in Wellington. Ross Taylor was the only batsman who stood firm, scoring a classy and unblemished 42, but none of the other batsmen looked the part in another spineless batting display, as New Zealand struggled to 140 for 7, still trailing India’s first-innings total by 239.

New Zealand needed only 13 deliveries to clean up India’s last wicket, but their batsmen found little joy when they came out to bat. Ishant Sharma struggled while bowling against the wind, but Zaheer was relentless from the first ball. He charged in, found the perfect length and some swing, and mixed in the short deliveries smartly to keep the batsmen guessing. Operating mostly from a short run-up, he seemed to bowl within himself and yet worked up brisk pace.

He started the New Zealand slide, switching to round the stumps to get rid of Martin Guptill, who was by far the more assured of the two openers. He was judging Zaheer’s over-the-wicket offerings to a nicety, but when the angle changed, Guptill tried to stand tall to defend a short one angled into him, but could only get an inside-edge onto his stumps. Daniel Flynn, back in the team for Jamie How, offered no resistance, lasting only eight deliveries before nicking one that pitched perfectly in the corridor and seamed away.

Zaheer’s first spell read 8-2-18-2, and after a brief break, which included the lunch interval, he was ready to wreck more havoc. Tim McIntosh had somehow made his way to 32 without ever being convincing – stiff and upright, he was often late on his shots and played-and-missed on several occasions – before Zaheer ended his misery with a perfect short delivery. McIntosh was in two minds and his edge was gleefully accepted by Yuvraj Singh at first slip.

That brought together Taylor and Jesse Ryder, easily New Zealand’s best batsmen, but Ryder looked unsettled from the start. He was troubled by Harbhajan’s drift and turn, before attempting a stroke that will make him cringe when he sees the replay: Zaheer tempted him with a short and wide ball, so wide that Ryder had to stretch out to reach it, and all he managed was the toe end of the bat.

Through all the limp batting at one end, Taylor looked as if he was batting on another surface, against another attack. From ball one, he was precise with his footwork and assured in judgment, playing close to his body, with the full face of the bat, and scarcely looking in any discomfort. He started his innings with a superb straight-drive for four off Zaheer, and played several more strokes that stood out. When India had a stranglehold over proceedings in a period before lunch when seven overs fetched seven runs, Taylor broke the shackles with a classy cover-drive off the accurate Munaf Patel. After lunch, he played the shot of the innings: there was hardly anything wrong with Zaheer’s delivery, which was on a good length just outside off, but Taylor was still good enough to effortlessly ease it through cover-point with a short back-lift and outstanding timing.

It was an innings that deserved to go much further, but was unfortunately cut short when umpire Daryl Harper upheld an appeal for a catch down the leg side. Replays suggested there was no contact between bat and ball, but Taylor didn’t question the decision, walking off as soon as the finger went up.

Harbhajan bowled superbly and deserved some success, though. Bowling at a slower pace than he normally does, he got the ball to drift, grip, and spin, and finally got a second wicket. James Franklin, who continues to bat above Brendon McCullum for reasons unknown, swept tamely to square leg. Daniel Vettori played a feisty 13-ball innings, flaying Ishant over third man for a six, but the bowler had his revenge, getting Vettori to inside-edge to MS Dhoni. With more than three days to go, New Zealand had plenty of catching up to do to avoid another defeat.

S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo

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