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Bhajji ton saves India the blushes

cricket Updated: Nov 09, 2010 00:25 IST
Atreyo Mukhopadhyay
Atreyo Mukhopadhyay
Hindustan Times
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The true test of champions lies not just in winning. How they wriggle out of tight situations is also an indicator of their strength. India justified their world No. 1 ranking without breaking much sweat in the first Test against New Zealand on Monday.

Out to protect the four remaining wickets for as long as possible on the final day, they did that for longer than required to force a draw, with Harbhajan Singh's feisty and maiden Test century crowning the dogged rearguard action.

Neither the bowling nor the pitch posed any real threat, but extending their innings beyond tea after being reduced to 15 for five at around the same time on Day IV demanded application. Crisis manager VVS Laxman and Harbhajan remained together for 49.2 overs on the final day and ensured by lunch during their 163-run partnership for the seventh wicket that the dark clouds were gone.

New Zealand had to make early inroads without frontline bowlers Hamish Bennett and of Jesse Ryder. With specialist off-spinner Jeetan Patel not posing any problem for the batsmen, it was up to Chris Martin and Daniel Vettori. The task proved too steep for what had effectively become a two-man attack. Martin bowled full and attacked the stumps, but the pronounced swing with the new ball seen a day earlier was missing. There was hardly any turn for Vettori either. It forced desperate measures and having bowled 32 balls in 25 previous Test appearances, Ross Taylor was pressed into action as was Brendon McCullum

Laxman and Harbhajan were studies in contrasts. While Laxman batted with the calmness and assurance of a hermit, Harbhajan was, mildly put, adventurous. Harbhajan walked out of the crease and made half contact with a pull when Martin pitched it short, got away with a miscued lofted shot off Patel on the leg side with three men in the deep waiting and saw another heave off Vettori land short of long-on. When none of these fetched him a boundary, he reverse swept Patel for four.

All this happened in the crucial first hour and he settled down after crossing 50 and brought up his century with a glorious six over extra-cover, off Vettori. Having bettered his previous best score of 69 made in the first innings, Harbhajan will remember this Man-of-the-Match award for his unexpected deeds.

On this day of wish fulfilment, it was sad to see the way Laxman missed his 17th century. Umpire Steve Davis overlooked a big inside edge before the ball hit his pad to signal the end of the batsman who has a seemingly endless ability to author masterpieces in the second innings. Davis followed it up with a similar but less obvious error to rule Zaheer Khan out next ball.

It was too late for these dismissals to have an impact. Whether these mistakes fan a debate over the use of the Umpire's Decision Referral System is something that will be closely followed over the next few days.