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Dhoni, Dravid set it up for India

cricket Updated: Nov 22, 2010 23:45 IST
Atreyo Mukhopadhyay
Atreyo Mukhopadhyay
Hindustan Times
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After toiling in vain in the first two Tests, India finally seem to have got a grip on what they were looking for. Building on their advantage painstakingly yet indisputably, the hosts took the final Test to a position after Day III from where all escape routes for New Zealand seem closed.

A first-innings deficit of 373 runs, one down already and the threat of some severe grilling by the Indian bowlers looming large on the last two days, the visitors will have to add to the patience, application and grit they showed in Ahmedabad and Hyderabad to defy India one last time.

Proceedings on Monday were unattractive but intense. India's bid for a total big enough to shut the door on New Zealand suffered three early blows before Rahul Dravid put it back on track in the company of Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Although the way they went about the job wasn't pleasing to the eye, there was a sense of dogged assuredness and purpose in their 193-run six-wicket partnership.

The focus shifted from Sachin Tendulkar's quest for a 50th Test century after just nine balls in the morning when Andy McKay got the four-over-old second new ball to jump more what the batsman expected, inducing an edge that was caught behind the stumps. It was the 10th instance of Tendulkar becoming the first victim of a Test debutant.

New Zealand's chances of staying in the game rested on the new ball in the first hour and they struck twice more with just 36 being added to the overnight tally of 292. For India, the situation demanded a long partnership to take a huge lead instead of a big one. With the ball losing shine and hardness, the bowlers stopped getting the swing and bounce they were as Dravid and Dhoni grafted themselves in.

It was an exhibition of determined batting first when the former and present captains got together. Dhoni slowed down after a few early fours and Dravid never gave the impression that he was on top of the bowling. Just 94 came in 33 overs before lunch, but by preventing the loss of wickets, the two seized the momentum lost in the morning.

Dravid was more assertive after the break and with the bowlers struggling to extract assistance from the pitch, the scoring rate jumped

Timing the ball with increasing finesse and looking to score instead of just trying to hang in, Dravid matched Dhoni run for run in the second session, which produced 124 in 30 overs without the loss of a wicket.

By then, India's lead had swollen to 317 and all eyes in the final session were on personal milestones. A combination of cramps and Daniel Vettori's outside-leg line frustrated Dhoni and stopped him two short of his fifth Test century.

After that, the only deliberate aerial shot Dravid played cost him a sixth double-century. By then though, his job was done. How India's bowlers go about constricting the opposition on a pitch still good for batting will be closely monitored now.