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Harbhajan’s bat does the talking again

That Harbhajan Singh is the second highest scorer of this series, one short of Virender Sehwag’s tally of 270, is either an indicator of the depth in the Indian line-up or a reminder that all is not well with the world’s most formidable batting order. Atreyo Mukhopadhyay reports. Scoreboard

cricket Updated: Nov 15, 2010 01:41 IST
Atreyo Mukhopadhyay

That Harbhajan Singh is the second highest scorer of this series, one short of Virender Sehwag’s tally of 270, is either an indicator of the depth in the Indian line-up or a reminder that all is not well with the world’s most formidable batting order.

After the off-spinner was left to lead another revival job on Day III of the second Test, for the third time in three innings so far, it’s safe to say that the players selected to score runs have performed below par. There was plenty of evidence of that on Sunday.

Braving a hot sun and also a brief spell of rain, about 30,000 packed the uncovered stands expecting a strong Indian reply to New Zealand’s 350. At 178 for two, India had the platform too. What the fans got instead was a subdued performance against an attack that was disciplined at best and two acts of inexplicable adventurousness with fatal consequences.

Runs were reduced to a trickle in the first session that saw 59 off 30 overs. Things improved after lunch and hopes of securing a big lead started getting brighter only to make way for a collapse which reduced India to 355 for eight.

Perhaps even the visitors were getting ready for their second innings before Harbhajan extended their stay on the field with one of the most vicious counterattacks seen in recent times.

Having deployed a ring of fielders around the bat against Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman early on, Daniel Vettori was forced to send seven men to the ropes without a single one close-in against Harbhajan, who accepted the challenge and hit the spinner for successive sixes over long-on. The rest had similar protection but got the same treatment.

Timing the ball exceptionally, the combative No. 8 not only moved close to a second Test century but dominated the yet unbroken last-wicket stand of 69 which pushed India’s lead to 86.

The lead is a position the team was planning to reach with bigger contributions from the established batsmen in the team.

In a shocking start, Tendulkar jumped out to the first ball of the fifth over bowled by Vettori and went for a heave on the leg side.

Beaten in flight and by spin, his quest for a 50th Test century ended in an edge caught at first slip. Whether it was an attempt to force the pace or dominate the bowler was unclear.

Accelerating couldn’t have been the purpose when Suresh Raina fell, trying to send Vettori out of the ground after adding 52 for the fifth wicket with Laxman at more than four per over. Having made 120, 62, 41 not out and 86 in his first four Test innings, Raina has returned scores of 0, 32, 3, 0 and 20 after that. The manner of the latest failure should prompt him to reconsider his approach towards Test cricket.

New Zealand knew they couldn’t afford to attack for long periods and chose to bowl straight, backed by brilliant ground fielding.

Rahul Dravid and Laxman negotiated this with patience and just as it seemed that they had things under control, the former got beaten by the inward movement of the ball.

Laxman celebrated his first home Test with a half-century which included two sublime on-drives, played with a flick of the wrist from outside off stump, bisecting the bowler and mid-on, before falling in a manner similar to Dravid. Soon after, the end started looking imminent before Harbhajan reshaped the course of the match.