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Ganguly?s gamble sets up thrilling finish

There are some days when you wonder where to begin ? this is one of them. So many things have happened in this first Test against the Kiwis.

india Updated: Oct 12, 2003 01:12 IST

There are some days when you wonder where to begin — this is one of them. So many things have happened in this first Test against the Kiwis at the Sardar Patel Gujarat stadium here.

A bold declaration in the beginning of a series labelled a grudge series; a dramatic double hundred by a man rather aptly dubbed The Wall; a breathtaking display of fast bowling by another referred to as the King Khan, a piece of sassy showmanship by who else but our very own skipper, a gritty display of batting by the visitors and finally, another audacious and very sporting declaration that has left this Test tantalizingly poised.

Forty-seven minutes after tea on Saturday evening, just as Sourav Ganguly was dismissed for a quick-fire 25 off 23 balls, India declared their second innings at 209 for six.

The 209, built around an 86-ball 73 by Rahul Dravid and a flamboyant 35-ball 44 by VVS Laxman, and combined with a first innings lead of 160 (the Kiwis were dismissed for 340), meant that New Zealand had been set a target of 370 to win in 118 overs.

As stumps were drawn, the Kiwis were 48 for the loss of one wicket in 18 overs (Mark Richardson fell to an another excellent catch by Aakash Chopra at forward short-leg off Anil Kumble two overs before close) and so they’ll be looking at getting 322 in the 90 overs remaining on Sunday. The chase is on.

More realistically though, their late-order fight-back in the morning gives the Kiwis a chance of saving this Test and saving face. To get 3.5 runs an over on a fifth-day wicket — even this one which has evidently been very well bound — is not something that’s very easy to visualise, so if the Kiwis do manage to pull this off, it will be nothing short of incredible.

What the very positive declaration does show however, is Ganguly’s immense confidence in his team. Some say Test cricket is boring but then they’re not watching this Indian team.

Many people in the cricketing firmament are beginning to believe that this is the beginning of the years of change for Indian cricket — a change brought about primarily because of a change in their thinking.

Maybe even as near back as a year ago, it was difficult to see an Indian think-tank declare at 500, with three days of play left. They would probably have played out the day, made it to the safety of a 600-plus score (and there’s a lot of difference between the two) and then taken it from there. Worst case scenario — the match would be drawn.

That first declaration and this one, reflect a newfound collective belief in self, perhaps a hangover from their one-day success that has transcended faces and the border between Test and one-day cricket.

But for this attitudinal change to materialise into something more substantial, the bowlers have to perform with greater consistency than they have done so far.

Coming back to Saturday’s play, it was pretty strange day to describe. A win should have been in the bag by Saturday evening, given that the Kiwis came into the weekend with eight wickets gone and staring a follow-on in the face.

There may be no such thing as a sure thing but the situation India were in came pretty close to being it. But as often happens with India —, who put up a splendid performance to take out the New Zealand top order — the lower order was allowed to get stuck in the middle.

Having said that, to be fair if New Zealand do save this Test then it’ll be due to one man — Daniel Vettori.

On Saturday morning, the bespectacled Kiwi came out to bat knowing fully well that basically only he stood between New Zealand and defeat. Paul Wiseman at the other end could play a back-up role but the experienced left-arm spinner would have to be the pivot. The pressure must have been tremendous.

By the time Vettori walked back to the pavilion, the final New Zealand wicket to fall, he had made an aggressive 60 off 79 balls, and already been involved in a 110-minute, 67-run partnership for the ninth wicket with Wiseman (27).

There were many who thought India should have opened with Sachin Tendulkar and not Chopra as they were looking for quick runs for an early declaration. But in the end the conventional methods worked fine despite Chopra’s slow progression.

The Delhi opening duo came out to bat about half an hour before lunch and negotiated the beginning without mishap. Fourteen for no loss at lunch, with what seems like a typical break up. Chopra on 1 and Sehwag on 13.

It was a slow start but a safe one. But Sehwag went soon after, adding only four runs to his score, trying to glide Oram to third man. The ball hit the splice of the bat just below the handle instead, for Robbie Hart to take an easy catch.

That brought the in-form Dravid to the crease. The Indian vice-captain just rammed the Kiwis, putting on 77 off 98 balls with Chopra, off which Chopra contributed 28. The best thing about their partnership was their running between the wickets.

Chopra’s dismissal for 31, beaten for the second time in the match in flight by Daniel Vettori and snapped up at short cover by Scott Styris, brought Tendulkar to the crease.

But a rare double failure by Tendulkar (8 and 7 in two innings here) was the signal for another murderous run. Laxman came in and showed his class as he and Dravid put on a run-a-ball 48 for the fourth wicket.

The wickets were falling at regular intervals but it didn’t really matter. The Indians knew what they had to do — they put on 83 runs in the 11.5 overs they batted after tea. And then of course, came that declaration.



New Zealand


Stephen Fleming, Mark Richardson, Nathan Astle, Lou Vincent, Scott Styris, Craig McMillan, Jacob Oram, Robbie Hart, Daniel Vettori, Daryl Tuffey, Paul WisemanIan Butler (12th man)

India

SouravGanguly, SachinTendulkar, VirenderSehwag, Akash Chopra, Rahul Dravid, Venkatsai Laxman, ParthivPatelHarbhajanSingh, ZaheerKhan, Anil Kumble, Laxmipathy Balaji, Yuvraj Singh (12th man)


Scorecard

First Published: Oct 11, 2003 10:23 IST