McCullum century leaves Test on edge
After swinging from one side to another for four days, the pendulum stands still. New Zealand need one long partnership to save the Test and India a couple of quick wickets to give themselves a chance of winning it on the last day. Atreyo Mukhopadhyay reports.cricket Updated: Nov 16, 2010 01:12 IST
After swinging from one side to another for four days, the pendulum stands still. New Zealand need one long partnership to save the Test and India a couple of quick wickets to give themselves a chance of winning it on the last day.
Proceedings on Monday were intense rather than electrifying as the visitors engaged India into another battle to convert their advantage into something tangible. The hosts worked hard without major success on a pitch not assisting spin to the extent they expect.
Instead of showing signs of discomfort that a first-innings deficit of 122 can cause, New Zealand were back on even terms without any casualties and in the end, extended their lead to 115 with six wickets standing. Time will be a factor when the action resumes and what India do with the second new ball, due after five overs, holds the key to the outcome of this match. Things started the way they had ended a day earlier with Harbhajan Singh wasting little time in racing to his second successive century.
In a slight change, he hoisted Daniel Vettori into the stands off the last ball of an over instead of taking a single
and India the lead they wanted when the innings ended.
That India didn't get what they desired while bowling was because of a combination of reasons. The fast bowlers made a mess of the new ball by not making the batsmen play more often and Zaheer Khan went off with an abdominal strain after bowling 4.3 overs. The spinners hardly got alarming turn and the New Zealand openers held fort like they seldom had in recent memory.
Brendon McCullum and Tim McIntosh were a study in contrasts. While the former wasted no chance to score in an otherwise cautious innings, McIntosh demonstrated the importance of leaving the ball in Test cricket.
After surviving two edges in Zaheer's first over, the left-hander simply refused to put bat to ball unless forced to before finding himself in the wrong end of a doubtful caught-at-short-leg verdict. By then, McCullum and McIntosh had put together 125, the first instance of a New Zealand opening pair crossing 100 after Stephen Fleming and Mark Richardson in England in 2004.
A lot depended on Sreesanth in Zaheer's absence and he bowled a wayward opening spell. He was marginally better in the later spells but by that time the ball was too old to help the bowler look penetrative.
With McCullum unleashing brilliant attacking strokes from time to time, M.S. Dhoni decided against taking chances and placed fielders in the deep. So despite having runs on the board, there were five patrolling the fence instead of catchers around the bat and the pressure on the batsmen eased. Although it looked odd, the captain of the world's top team can't be blamed unless it starts happening more frequently.
With McCullum going great guns, India did well to take three more wickets. The batsman slowed down after his sixth Test century, which came off 132 balls, and scored 24 more off 45 balls after that. With Zaheer expected to bowl on the final day, the result of the duel between these two might shape the destiny of this Test.