If Test cricket is about turning small advantages into capital gains, then India hardly put a foot wrong for a major part of Day II of the second Test, before missing a step or two towards the end.
Despite chasing the game for most of Day I, the hosts had taken a late wicket to create a situation for themselves where they had a chance to attack New Zealand with the second new ball and restrict them to less than what they looked like getting at one stage.
On Saturday, Zaheer Khan made hay when the ball was shining before Harbhajan Singh made his presence felt as a bowler for the first time in this series to help India bag the six remaining wickets in 28.3 overs for just 92 runs.
Virender Sehwag’s blazing bat then took care of the consolidation work that remained to be done before two late wickets revived New Zealand’s quickly fading hopes. The fall of the openers stopped India from running away with the game, but they can’t be faulted for believing they still have the edge because of the quality of their remaining resources and better understanding of the conditions.
After the early exploits of the bowlers, Sehwag entertained the 19,000-odd in the stands with yet another disdainful demolition act.
Slow off the blocks, scoring two off 23 and waiting for 25 balls for his first boundary, Sehwag was close to his career strike rate of 81.93 when he was done. A 23rd century was there for the taking before he threw it away, getting dismissed in the 90s for the fifth time in his career.
Short on runs of late, Gautam Gambhir wasn’t comfortable at the start and saw an edge off Tim Southee fly over first slip in the second over. He didn’t quite grow in confidence or composure as the day wore on, but importantly for himself, converted the grind into his first first half-century after 10 Test innings. The team gained too, in the form of an
opening stand of 160 scored at a good pace.
Before the openers went in, India had to strike early. With Jesse Ryder helping himself to a series of boundaries off Sreesanth and Pragyan Ojha, it all depended on Zaheer. For the umpteenth time in the last two years, the left-armer rose to the occasion and struck twice in his first four overs to halt the Kiwi cruise. Harbhajan did the rest by hitting the right areas.
Although Sehwag’s absence will slow things down, the presence of Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid with more class and experience to follow in VVS Laxman mean India have the platform to achieve their first target of securing a healthy lead.
The pitch isn’t offering much deviation and bounce is all that the New Zealand bowlers can exploit. That seemed to be the ploy late in the day when Southee let a few fly at Tendulkar, who avoided them astutely. But it will take some doing for this plan to work because the 49-over-old ball wouldn’t be at its hardest when the action resumes.
After sharing honours with New Zealand in this series till Day I of this Test, India have worked their way to a position which they can make stronger if they perform to potential. The numbers in the stands will swell on Sunday expecting just that.