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Martin hums ominous tune

A quest for victory can degenerate into a boring walk in the park for a draw but rarely does it snowball into a big exercise to avoid defeat. Atreyo Mukhopadhyay reports. India left gasping for breath

cricket Updated: Nov 08, 2010 00:52 IST
Atreyo Mukhopadhyay
Atreyo Mukhopadhyay
Hindustan Times

A quest for victory can degenerate into a boring walk in the park for a draw but rarely does it snowball into a big exercise to avoid defeat.

It took 31 balls from Chris Martin on Sunday to shake the first Test between India and New Zealand out of slumber and force the hosts into an emergency overdrive to save a match they thought they could win even at the start of play in the morning. The Test looked dead, when India started their second innings, on a pitch where they had to work way above expectations to take 10 wickets.

Opening the attack of a side missing two bowling options in Hamish Bennett (groin strain) and Jesse Ryder (stiff calf), Martin brought the world's best batting line-up down on its knees in spectacular fashion. The only bowler in this match to have moved the new ball noticeably got some in-swing going immediately and aided by some smart, low catching behind the stumps, reduced India to 15 for five.

With an overall lead of 43 and a minimum of 120 overs remaining when the fifth wicket fell, India were looking to the one man who has scripted many famous rescue acts. They were lucky to have VVS Laxman there at stumps, for umpire Steve Davis overlooked what appeared to be a deflection off the bat into the hands of forward short-leg off Jeetan Patel's first ball. India had just 25 on the board at that time.

The gripping developments overshadowed a gallant effort by Kane Williamson, the 20-year-old who became New Zealand's eighth and youngest player to score a century on Test debut while forming the backbone of the innings.

After sharing a fifth-wicket stand of 194 with Ryder on Day III, the right-hander found another left-hander for company in Daniel Vettori and put together 86 for the sixth wicket to push the total past 400.

It was only the fifth time New Zealand crossed that mark against teams other than Zimbabwe or Bangladesh in 39 away Tests in this millennium.

It seemed as if statistical highlights like Vettori becoming the fifth New Zealander to complete 4,000 Test runs or Dhoni's unusual fielding placements in a prolonged search for wickets would remain the talking points of the day when the visitors were bowled out.

But the match turned on its head within five overs with India going into the tea break gasping for oxygen at three down for two. While Martin's swing bowling undid the top order, an exceptional piece of fielding by Martin Guptill sent back Virender Sehwag. The substitute for Bennett dived to his left at mid-off to stop Dravid's punch off Vettori and wasted no time in shifting the ball to his right hand before flicking the ball back to the bowler to effect an easy run out.

Wickets fell at longer intervals after tea, but India lost three more before closing the day with just 110 runs in the bank. They have finished on the right side of some seesaw battles starting with the Eden Gardens Test of 2001 and their hopes now rest on two players who played key roles in that win against Australia. This time, Laxman and Harbhajan will be delighted to snatch draw when the action resumes on Monday.

First Published: Nov 07, 2010 13:54 IST