Kiwis in danger despite Astle ton
Like we’ve said before, New Zealand were always going to need something extraordinary from more than one batsman to have a chance of saving this first Test. On Friday, at least, that something extraordinary didn’t happen.
The Kiwis came into Day Three of this Test with their backs to the wall. On Thursday, a confident India had declared at 500 for five and Zaheer Khan had shattered them with his evening spell of three for 16.
The Kiwis began the day at 41 for three and ended it at 282 for eight, built around a classy 103 by Nathan Astle.
The Kiwis still need 19 runs to prevent a follow on (which may not have been enforced in any case). But though their tailenders will most likely prevent the follow-on on Saturday morning, like Astle’s ton, it will only delay the inevitable.
India will probably go on to win this Test with the same kind of ease that they do against most attacks at home and New Zealand will have to get back to their hotel and do some quick thinking ahead of the second Test at Mohali.
Anyway, all this is for later. While Friday did not witness the same kind of drama that the second day’s play brought, there were two special marks from an Indian point of view.
Lakshmipathy Balaji, who’s had somewhat of an ordinary debut here, managed to trap Robbie Hart in the post tea session with the new ball for his first Test wicket and Anil Kumble picked up his 350th.
The normally reserved Indian leg-spinner, who had been plugging away with little success through the day, was ecstatic when Rahul Dravid at first slip held on to an easy catch from Jacob Oram. Kumble became the 14th man in Test cricket to get to the landmark.
The stand-out performance of the day though, was by Astle, who has come into this series not yet fully recovered from a knee injury, which, incidentally, is why he hasn’t been bowling, either in the tour games or here.
He played with aplomb, showing none of the apprehension that the other Kiwi batsmen had displayed.
Scott Styris at the other end probably gained in confidence from watching Astle and even though he too began to open up, he took more risks. In fact, Styris was twice dropped at forward short-leg by Aakash Chopra — obviously taking some time to adjust to an unusual position.
While the first was a very difficult chance that Chopra did very well to get to, the second was a short, sharp one that needed a reflex action. Both were off Harbhajan.
But Chopra got his own back when he took an excellent catch diving to his left (not his natural side) to dismiss Styris off Harbhajan and then more than made up for any gaffes when he scooped up a very low catch to dismiss a dangerous looking Craig McMillan off fellow opener Virender Sehwag.
Coming back to Astle, while his knock has to be appreciated, his dismissal shortly after getting to his almost chanceless hundred (he was dropped on 93 by Parthiv Patel off Harbhajan) will not win him any friends in the dressing room.
He was set, looking good, a batsman with a ton to his name. There was no need to go heave ho and step out to Harbhajan in that lackadaisical manner. Then again, the Indian bowlers really bowled their hearts out on a wicket that was offering no assistance.
While Zaheer’s magical spell of Thursday evening remained just that — a magical interlude — to have almost all the Kiwis back in the pavilion with over 200 runs in the kitty is no mean feat given the conditions.
Kiwi skipper Stephen Fleming, who has a reputation for being one of the most innovative captains in world cricket, would be wondering where he got it wrong.