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NZ fight back through defiant duo

A big Indian total on the board, a few wickets lost, the afternoon temperature soaring to around 35 degrees Centigrade, fielders close to the bat and the spinners operating - it's one of the toughest tests of ability, application, concentration and character in contemporary international cricket. Atreyo Mukhopadhyay reports. Stat Attack | Kiwis with most Test centuries against India

cricket Updated: Nov 07, 2010 01:22 IST
Atreyo Mukhopadhyay

A big Indian total on the board, a few wickets lost, the afternoon temperature soaring to around 35 degrees Centigrade, fielders close to the bat and the spinners operating - it's one of the toughest tests of ability, application, concentration and character in contemporary international cricket.

The unheralded New Zealanders displayed these attributes under pressure and stonewalled India on the third day of the first Test on Saturday.

That none of the batsmen had any experience of playing Test cricket in India made their effort remarkable. True, luck favoured them but it doesn't undermine their performance in any way.

If you divide a Test match into sessions and narrow it down further into hours, then India had reason to be happy for what they achieved in the second after toiling without success in the first. Two of New Zealand's most experienced batsmen - Brendon Mccullum and Ross Taylor - were gone after a third-wicket stand of 104 and, with the total reading 148 for four at lunch, India looked set to tighten the noose.

At this juncture, they lost the plot. Instead of allowing the bowlers to settle down to a line and plan, Mahendra Singh Dhoni kept shuffling them and made as many as eight bowling changes to complete 26 overs in the second session. None got more than four overs at a stretch and it was puzzling to see things like Virender Sehwag replacing Harbhajan Singh only to make way for Suresh Raina after bowling just one over.

Taking nothing away from Jesse Ryder and Kane Williamson, it was impossibleto overlook how these frequent bowling changes eased the pressure on the batsmen.

The visitors accepted the offering and grew in confidence by putting away the loose deliveries, quite a few of which were bowled by Harbhajan himself.

Batting with a runner from the middle of the second session, Ryder had a few lapses in concentration and on 11, got away with a slash, off Sreesanth, that Rahul Dravid dropped at wide first slip. There were two miscued heaves which fell safely, but barring those, Ryder deserved every run on way to a third Test century all of which have been against India.

The most accomplished display of batting came from Williamson. The 20-year-old debutant who scored a duck in his first ODI appearance, against India in Sri Lanka in August, was right behind the ball with a straight bat and went well forward to smother whatever slow turn the spinners extracted. He too had his share of luck and on 56, saw umpire Kumar Dharmasena turn down a huge appeal for caught behind, off Zaheer Khan. There was little for the bowlers from the pitch or in the air. The new ball hardly swung and the ball came so slowly off the pitch that the batsmen had no trouble even when they played the spinners from the crease.

Dhoni could have been more patient and let his bowlers stick to a plan, but he wanted instant results and this approach was not rewarded.

Patience and playing according to the situation, it was these age-old virtues that were the pillars on which the 194-run partnership between Ryder and Williamson was built. This association ensured that time has become a factor in India's bid for victory.