Having waited 41 years, and now 46 days since the Indian team landed in Auckland in late February, Indian fans will have to hang in there for one more day to see history being made. Only rain stands in the way of India as they press on in their irresistible march towards a 2-0 win in this series. Staring at a practically impossible target of 617, New Zealand were reduced to 84 for 4 before they recovered to 167 for 4 when bad light brought an early end to the fourth day’s play.
Ross Taylor, who was initially given caught at short-leg by Gautam Gambhir only to be reprieved by an inconclusive television replay, was the architect of New Zealand’s recovery.
To be fair to the hosts, Martin Guptill and Tim McIntosh began well, neither being too defensive nor attacking for the sake of it. Guptill, in particular, enjoyed taking on the fast bowlers when they banged the ball in short, lifting Zaheer Khan for two magnificent sixes over deep backward square-leg.
It was, however, only a matter of time before Zaheer struck back, and McIntosh made the fatal error of defending tentatively outside off. The edge flew low and hard, and Rahul Dravid, fielding at third slip, went down swiftly and sharply to pouch the catch, the 182nd of his career. As he kissed the ball and got up, Dravid had left Mark Waugh behind and this catching record is one that should be his for some time to come.
Daniel Flynn has not had the rub of the green this series and this trend only continued as he had his stumps disturbed by a ball that ricocheted off both inside edge and pad.
Guptill was one short of his half-century when he played back to Harbhajan Singh and failed to put bat to ball, being trapped in front of off stump.
Harbhajan, skipping in to his bowling stride despite the swirling wind at The Basin, then gave Jesse Ryder a taste of what was possible with a ripping off-break that reared from the length. Ryder acknowledged the delivery but did not last much longer, offering a defensive bat to another off-break that turned, kissed the outside edge and lodged safely in Dravid’s hands. At 84 for 4, New Zealand were in serious danger of handing the game on a platter to the Indians.
But Taylor counter-attacked and managed to catch Ishant Sharma in the middle of an ordinary spell. The short deliveries were dispatched through midwicket with disdain, sometimes off the front foot, and anything full was eased through cover with minimum fuss and maximum timing.
Even as the partnership between Taylor and James Franklin grew, India’s fielders did not let their shoulders droop. Harbhajan was prime among those keeping the side in good humour, constantly cracking jokes, dancing instead of walking. If the weather holds for just one more day, India will be laughing all the way to the record books.