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New Zealand tighten the noose

cricket Updated: Mar 29, 2009 00:08 IST

Hindustan Times
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Test cricket is a game you had better respect. If you don't, it extracts a heavy toll. Subconsciously or otherwise, India's batsmen failed to face the challenge at hand head on and find themselves in a situation where they have to bat out of their skins just to save the game. New Zealand would have scarcely thought it possible that they would take eight Indian wickets in a day on a placid McLean Park surface, but that is exactly what they did, leaving India 267 runs adrift with two days to play.

There is much to be said for playing your natural game, but certain occasions demand a change in approach and it should not be seen as a failing to come down from a batting pedestal and put in the hard grind. On Saturday the majority of India's batsmen middled the ball sweetly, and in the absence of exaggerated swing or spin, should have just cashed in. Instead, they showed how collective hard work — all put in by New Zealand — can bridge the gap in talent.

The day began and ended with Rahul Dravid at the crease, but it was far from an uneventful one. Sachin Tendulkar, who had taken boundaries off all the fast bowlers, picked two off a Jeetan Patel over, the first a pre-meditated lap sweep and the second a crashing shot through cover. On 49, he tried to run Patel to point for a single and edged straight to slip.

With the first of two meaningful partnerships in the innings broken at 87, Dravid began to build alongside VVS Laxman. Dravid looked as solid as he has in years and as Laxman began to pick off the boundaries, India's spirits were lifted. But to their credit New Zealand's bowlers never lost the plot, and kept plugging away.

A magic touch from Jesse Ryder and a poor shot from Dravid (83), who slashed a short, wide ball to Brendon McCullum, ensured that the balance swung back the way of the hosts.

Yuvraj Singh, unusually tentative and perhaps feeling the pressure of having to produce the goods when it mattered the most, opened the face of his bat a touch too much to Chris Martin, giving the seamer his 150th Test wicket as Tim McIntosh pouched the catch at second slip. Dinesh Karthik failed to make the most of a rare hit at this level, thickly edging Martin to slip in similar fashion to Yuvraj.

When Laxman (76) also backed himself to hit a full, slightly wide ball through cover but only managed an edge, New Zealand moved the Test match forward in just the direction they wanted. All out for 305 in only 93.5 overs, India had not even batted long enough to make Vettori think twice about the follow-on.

Stand-in skipper Virender Sehwag capped off an ordinary Test by attempting to hit Patel out of the ground and, perhaps the attack, but missed the ball and was struck on the back leg in front of off stump. Dravid and Gambhir went through to close but New Zealand, with all the honours from the first three days, need just a little more indiscretion from the Indians to square this series.