If Daniel Vettori is ripping his hair out in frustration you can’t blame him. The New Zealand captain’s pleas for a surface with a bit of juice in it seemed to have fallen on deaf ears as the final Test began on a brown surface. But with 21 wickets falling in two days, 10 of those belonging to the Kiwis for the addition of only 197 runs, he might well be wondering just how bad the carnage would have been had the Basin Reserve surface been a green seamer.
After India put 379, New Zealand needed to show that they were not about to be picked off in home conditions; that their wickets would have to be earned through hard toil. After showing in Napier that they could punch above their weight, New Zealand’s batsmen collectively abdicated responsibility and went a long way in handing this game, and with it the series, on a platter to the Indians.
Martin Guptill underestimated the bounce and did not display footwork that was conservative enough. Daniel Flynn, who missed the Napier run-fest with a bruised hand, searched outside off stump in vain when he should have been leaving the ball alone.
Tim McIntosh, who perhaps was the one batsman who put self-preservation above all else, saw off 74 balls before becoming Zaheer Khan’s third victim as a ball reared from a length and flew to first slip via the outside edge. Jesse Ryder, due a failure, played perhaps the most forgettable shot of his brief Test career, attempting to fetch one from well outside off and only managing an edge to the ’keeper.
Just when it looked it would be an all-Zaheer show, Harbhajan Singh struck, strangling Ross Taylor down the leg side for Mahendra Singh Dhoni to move smartly to his left to take a good catch. Taylor’s 42 would end up being the highest score of the innings.
James Franklin swept straight to square-leg, Brendon McCullum tried to cut and edged to the ’keeper, but the greatest joy came for the Indians when Tim Southee attempted to break the shackles by pulling Zaheer over the infield. The ball speared high into the air, Zaheer called for it and settled under the swirler to complete the 7th five-wicket haul of his career.
At 160 for 8, with the Indians having bowled less than 55 overs, there was a serious chance that the home side would be asked to follow-on. The Indians were saved the trouble of making the decision as the tail wagged just enough to push the total past the follow-on mark. When the last wicket fell on 197, all that was left was for Virender Sehwag to take the chance to play a significant Test innings, but the industrious Chris Martin found enough extra bounce to have Sehwag caught on the cut.
When Gautam Gambhir and Rahul Dravid walked off at the end of the day, India were 51 for 1, ahead by 233 with three days to play. Those interested in a slice of history, set your alarm clocks, India are well on their way.