THEY'RE A band of merry entertainers, and they've taken their unique brand of attacking batsmanship to every corner of the world. After Steve Waugh's Australians set the trend, this Indian batting line-up has scored at a scorching pace against a variety of bowling attacks, forcing results in Test matches that looked gone for all the money in the world. At a time when the chips were down they bucked the trend and even turned back the clock. The job is not done yet, but India are well on their way to protecting their 1-0 lead going into the final Test.
All day New Zealand's bowlers toiled, and had it not been for an umpiring blunder they would have met with no success at all. Gautam Gambhir, who skips down the pitch to the fastest bowlers in shorter versions of the game, batted with maturity well beyond his 23 Test matches. The left-hander from Delhi is one of the bigger mysteries of this Indian team. Not long ago he was considered too flashy for Test cricket. But since he returned to the Test team in Sri Lanka last year, Gambhir has scored relentlessly in all forms. He worked on his technique - but he's not one to talk a lot about his own game - and has eliminated every possible excuse.
Gambhir has focussed on perfecting the art of run accumulation and the results are there for all to see. Since his comeback he has 1236 runs from nine matches at 72.70, with three hundreds and seven fifties. Add this game's effort when he finishes and those numbers will get even more impressive.
If Gambhir needed inspiration on just how to tackle the day, he only needed to look 22 yards down the pitch. Rahul Dravid has been in this situation before and he is one of the few remaining batsmen who has it in him to concentrate solely on the next delivery and not worry about what's happening with the scoreboard. Dravid set the pace, if you can even call it that, and set about wearing down New Zealand's bowlers.
India did not lose a wicket in the first session and Dravid had been at the crease more than six hours for his 220-ball 62 when umpire Ian Gould upheld an appeal for a close-in catch when the ball had come solely off the pad. Disappointed and a touch more demonstrative than usual, Dravid stormed back to the dressing-room, perhaps worried that his fall might trigger a collapse like in the first innings.
Sachin Tendulkar took over the vigil, occasionally unveiling a sumptuous drive as if to show that he was defensive out of choice. Gambhir (batting 102) was occasionally fidgety but to his credit he got through those patches through sheer will power, none more so than when he was stuck on 83 for 57 minutes.
India finished Sunday 62 behind, but they had barely offered a chance all day. In 90 overs they added 205, 13 runs short of their best T20 score. But for Indian fans to whom winning matters and pride is not just a word, March 29, 2009, Napier was a red-letter day.