Harbhajan Singh smashed an attacking career-best eighth half-century as India posted an imposing first innings total of 487 and then snapped two early wickets to wrest initiative on the second day of the opening Test against New Zealand.
The feisty off-spinner scored 69 in 97 balls with three sixes and five fours to help his team post 487 in their first innings after they were reeling at 412 for 8 post lunch at the Sardar Patel Stadium in Motera.
Indian pace and spin combo of Zaheer Khan and Pragyan Ojha then bowled superbly to snap two early wickets as New Zealand finished the day at 69 for two in 28 overs, still trailing by 418 runs with 8 wickets remaining.
India though started the day at a commanding 329 for three but kept losing wickets steadily to the double spin attack of Daniel Vettori, who captured 4 for 118, and Jeetan Patel (3 for 135).
However, Harbhajan led a late charge to consolidate the innings before being last out at the stroke of tea by edging rival team captain Vettori to wicketkeeper Gareth Hopkins. Replying to India's first inning total, the Kiwis started on a shaky note as Zaheer dismissed inexperienced New Zealand batsmen Tim McIntosh and Ojha cleaned up B J Watling cheaply before McCullum and Taylor stemmed the rot.
McCullum two-hour vigil was embellished with seven fours, while Taylor had three boundaries in his 18-run innings.
In the morning, New Zealand fought back gamely with a weakened attack that was without debutant pacer Hamish Bennett, who pulled out due to a groin strain, to dismiss three top Indian batsmen.
The hosts lost both the overnight batsmen in Sachin Tendulkar and V V S Laxman and then Suresh Raina as well in the pre-lunch session. Soon after lunch break, the Kiwis added the wickets of captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Zaheer Khan also to their kitty before Harbhajan, whose previous highest was 66 made against Zimbabwe in Bulawayo in 2001, led the late surge.
With Ojha (11 in 59 balls) playing the ideal foil, Harbhajan helped India add 66 in 114 balls for the ninth wicket to power the hosts closer to the 500-run mark, they were earlier aiming for.
Harbhajan was not afraid to take the bull by its horns after frontline batsmen Tendulkar, Laxman, Raina and captain Dhoni got out quickly on either side of lunch.
The Kiwis sent back Tendulkar, Laxman and Raina in the last 25 minutes to dramatically change the complexion of the game. Raina and Laxman were dismissed at the same score of 392 in the space of four balls just before lunch by debutant Williamson and Patel.
Tendulkar (40, in 133 balls with five fours), Laxman (40 in 105 balls with four fours), the two unbeaten overnight batsmen, were separated after a stand of 66 runs in 188 balls with Patel accounting for both of them in the last half hour before lunch.
Raina (3) was sent back by part-time slow bowler and debutant Kane Williamson as India slipped from 383 for three to 392 for six in just six overs in the last half an hour of the first session. Patel, who looked hardly threatening, accepted a tame return catch from Tendulkar and then trapped Laxman in front with a spinning ball. Williamson was the other wicket taker before lunch when he had Raina caught at short covers when the batsman pushed firmly off the back foot.
New Zealand made further inroads into the Indian innings after lunch as left-arm spinner Vettori, who bowled a marathon spell of 16 overs for 14 runs without taking a wicket in the first session, dismissed Dhoni (10) and Khan (1) in the space of nine balls spread over three overs.
Dhoni was caught bat-pad at short leg off a sharply turning ball to which he offered a defensive bat while Khan was beaten totally and bowled by an arm ball that whipped in to reduce the hosts to 412 for 8.
At this stage Harbhajan, who came in at the fall of Laxman who fell in the last ball before lunch, found a good partner in Ojha and the duo pulled India past the 450-run mark. Harbhajan swung Patel to the long on fence for a four and a six before flat-batting Vettori for a six and hoisting him over long on to help the Indian total leap in front.
The first hour after lunch brought in 49 runs in 17.4 overs before Harbhajan completed the eighth half century of his career, and second against the Kiwis, in 58 balls.
It included four hits to the boundary and a couple of sixes. He then swung Patel over mid-wicket for a third six after raising the half-century partnership with Ojha in 81 balls.
The latter was later rapped on the pads by Patel, his third wicket today after an unsuccessful and costly stint on Thursday.
In the morning, in total contrast to yesterday's opening session when Virender Sehwag, who notched up his 22nd Test century with a dazzling knock of 173 to provide the fireworks ahead of Diwali, the Indian batsmen pussy-footed.
With Tendulkar and Laxman content to set their eyes in and with India looking to score over 500 runs at the least, runs came in a trickle with only 29 runs scored off the first 16 overs against New Zealand's most experienced bowlers Chris Martin and skipper Daniel Vettori, for the most part.
The second hour too did not produce sparkling stroke-play as 25 runs came for the loss of three important wickets in the next 14.2 overs. Vettori bowled a tight spell of 16 overs for 14 runs before giving way to Williamson just before the interval.
The Kiwis attack was content to keep the runs down with slow left-arm Vettori bowling to a packed off side field.
Tendulkar, with the entire country looking forward to him notching up his 50th Test hundred, took 86 balls to add 27 runs to his overnight score before losing his wicket to the off spinner, 25 minutes before lunch. In all, he had a 168-minute stay at the crease.
Raina followed suit, caught brilliantly by Brendon McCullum, off the 19th ball he faced.
The Kiwis ended the opening session on a high note by dismissing Laxman in the last over.
The batsman played forward defensively from the crease but the ball turned in and sneaked its way to hit his pads right in front.
He, however, did not look happy to be given out.