On a day of fortune swings at the Sardar Patel Stadium here on Friday, the underdog fought hard.
First, Kiwi spinners skipper Daniel Vettori and Jeetan Patel jolted the Indian middle-order in the morning before Harbhajan Singh's aggressive 69 carried the host to a healthy 487 on the second day of the first Test.
Then, New Zealand lost two quick wickets – the side was 27 for two – before Brendon McCullum (38 batting) and Ross Taylor (18 batting) ensured the visitor ended the day at 69 for two.
On a surface that is increasingly encouraging the spinners, New Zealand has a fight on its hands to save the follow-on. Once the score reaches 288, the Kiwis would breathe easier.
Under considerable pressure from the outset, New Zealand lost left-handed opener Tim McIntosh early. The bouncer fired in by Zaheer Khan followed McIntosh to kiss his gloves for 'keeper Dhoni to pouch the edge.
Dhoni bravely batted and kept wickets on the second day despite taking treatment for malaria.
Zaheer was lively but Sreesanth appeared to struggle with his line. He was whipped and glided for boundaries by McCullum.
Bradley-John Watling did not last long. He played for spin but saw his stumps disturbed when left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha got one to straighten.
Taylor joined McCullum. The two naturally aggressive batsmen applied themselves. Between periods of defence, McCullum played a few telling strokes, pulling Zaheer Khan and striking Ojha over his head. He survived an anxious moment when on 27 though. Ojha spun the sphere to find the outside edge but a diving Dravid at slip could only get a finger to the ball.
At the other end, Taylor survived a vociferous appeal from Sreesanth for a leg-before decision after the paceman seamed a delivery in. The Kiwi was playing a stroke though and might have been struck just outside the line. It was a close call.
Earlier, New Zealand pegged the Indians back in the second hour of the first session. The Kiwi display was particularly creditable since the side missed the services of impressive debutant Hamish Bennett; the paceman was nursing a groin strain.
Sachin Tendulkar (40) pulled seamer Chris Martin and slog-swept off-spinner Patel but failed to conjure a record 50th Test hundred. The maestro ventured into a drive and the slowness of the track forced him to pop up a return catch to a gleeful Patel.
There was turn for the spinners and the Indian batsmen had to guard themselves against the emerging roughs at both ends.
The New Zealanders struck again. Kane Williamson, who can develop into a handy off-spinner, sent back Suresh Raina. The left-hander attempted to drive a short-of-a-length delivery from round-the-wicket and was smartly held by McCullum at short extra cover. Once again, the slowness of the track contributed to the dismissal.
Not much later, V.V.S. Laxman (40), pushing forward, missed a precise off-spinner from just outside the off-stump from Patel to be adjudged leg-before. The bowler, who did well to stick to the basics, controlled the extent of spin admirably on this occasion. India had slumped to 392 for six.
Not among the best players of quality left-arm spin, Dhoni perished to Vettori. The Indian captain stretched forward expecting the ball to spin away but the delivery went through with the arm to produce a bat-pad dismissal at short-leg.
The Kiwi spinners were on the ball. Vettori bowled a tad closer to the stumps and landed the ball on the footmarks around the leg-stump than operate to an off-stump line. And he used the one coming in with the arm to unsettle the men facing him. Zaheer Khan Khan was bamboozled and bowled by one such flighted beauty.
It took a spinner from the Indian ranks to respond to the challenge. Short of runs and confidence with the willow this season, Harbhajan waded into the bowling. A clean striker of the ball, Harbhajan's inside-out off-drives off Vettori were rousing blows. He was strong in the arc between the straight field and mid-wicket too, struck Patel into the stands.
Ojha provided Harbhajan determined support - the ninth wicket pair raised 66 valuable runs - before playing down the wrong line to Patel.
And when Vettori prised out Harbhajan to bring the Indian innings to a conclusion, he has scalped his 100th Test batsman as captain.
India (Ist innings): G. Gambhir b Ryder 21 (41b, 3x4), V. Sehwag b Vettori 173 (199b, 24x4, 1x6), R. Dravid b Martin 104 (277b, 14x4), S. Tendulkar c & b Patel 40 (133b, 5x4), V.V.S. Laxman lbw b Patel 40 (105b, 4x4), S. Raina c McCullum b Williamson 3 (19b), M.S. Dhoni c Watling b Vettori 10 (9b, 1x6), Harbhajan Singh c Hopkins b Vettori 69 (97b, 5x4, 3x6), Zaheer Khan b Vettori 1 (11b), P. Ojha lbw b Patel 11 (59b), S. Sreesanth (not out) 2 (16b), Extras (b-5, lb-2, w-1, nb-5) 13, Total (in 151.1 overs) 487.
Fall of wickets: 1-60 (Gambhir), 2-297 (Sehwag), 3-317 (Dravid), 4-383 (Tendulkar), 5-392 (Raina), 6-392 (Laxman), 7-410 (Dhoni), 8-412 (Zaheer), 9-478 (Ojha).
New Zealand bowling: Martin 24-5-75-1, Bennett 15-2-47-0, Vettori 54.5-12-118-4, Ryder 17-4-56-1, Patel 29-6-135-3, Williamson 12-0-49-1.
New Zealand (Ist innings): T. McIntosh c Dhoni b Zaheer 0 (10b), B. McCullum (batting) 38 (75b, 7x4), B.J. Watling b Ojha 6 (22b, 1x4), R. Taylor (batting) 18 (61b, 3x4), Extras (b-1, lb-6) 7, Total (for two wickets in 28 overs) 69.
Fall of wickets: 1-8 (McIntosh), 2-27 (Watling).
India bowling: Zaheer 7-4-14-1, Sreesanth 6-1-21-0, Ojha 10-3-15-1, Harbhajan 5-2-12-0.
Keywords: India-New Zealand