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Gambhir leads fightback with century

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WELL DONE: Indian cricketers and support staff congratulate Gautam Gambhir as he walks into the dressing room.
WELL DONE: Indian cricketers and support staff congratulate Gautam Gambhir as he walks into the dressing room.

S. Ram Mahesh

Resolute knocks from Dravid and Tendulkar

NAPIER: It used to be said of India, a touch uncharitably no doubt, that its batsmen did better in the second innings, so they may as well play the second innings first.

India has moved on of course from those days of self-depreciating humour, but on the fourth day of the second Test here at McLean Park, the touring batsmen were forced into batting more resolutely than they had in the first innings.

Following on, after being dismissed for 305 in response to New Zealand’s 619 for nine declared, India batted the day losing just a wicket to finish on 252 for two from 107 overs.

Gautam Gambhir, who had taken India to stumps on Saturday 47 for one, ground out a determined, hard-fought, unbeaten century (102 batting), his fifth in Test cricket. The 27-year-old has had a remarkable year and a bit in international cricket, but Sunday’s effort was his most significant.

Rahul Dravid (62) stayed with him for four hours, keeping New Zealand at bay, before Sachin Tendulkar (58 batting) leavened matters with a brilliant, breezy innings that wasn’t devoid of gravity.

The weather on Sunday morning was set fair, not a cloud in the sky, as the holiday crowd brought with them foldable chairs and cushions for accommodation on the grassy knolls and thermos flasks for sustenance through the day.

Tense session

The first session was tense, demanding absolute attention. Gambhir and Dravid were intent on crease occupation, a craft the latter is particularly accomplished at.

Of great interest was Gambhir’s approach, for one sensed he was outraging his true self by playing in a manner that didn’t come naturally.

Dravid, who has been in fine touch this series, appeared to relish the stoush — both on the level of physical and mental skill, and on the level of tactics. Distress seems to release a sort of resin in Dravid’s batting, which hardens into an impenetrable casing.

He allowed himself to be caught in a compromising position early on Sunday, when running, but James Franklin couldn’t manage the dead-eye accuracy the throw from mid-on required.

None of New Zealand’s bowlers, however, could find a way past. To be fair to the tiring bowlers, they hadn’t much to work with from the conditions. Whatever little swing and cut the new ball had offered on Saturday evening had been lost with its ageing.

The strip hadn’t worn terribly in its fourth day; neither Daniel Vettori nor Jeetan Patel is a big turner of the ball in any case (although that can sometimes make it tougher for the batsmen).

There still was bounce, not alarming but enough to provoke a slight error — and that’s all a bowler needs for a wicket. What New Zealand had going for it, of course, was circumstantial pressure.

Unlucky exit

Gambhir and Dravid, until the latter’s unlucky exit, had the fortune such an enterprise requires.

Gambhir was deceived by a looping Iain O’Brien slower ball, but it was sliding down leg when it struck his foot. The soundness of the left-handed opener’ cover-driving was tested before lunch by Vettori.

The left-armer put a curving, spinning delivery through bat and pad before getting one to drift and defeat the outside edge. Neither was fatal. Gambhir chipped Patel uppishly, but the bowler couldn’t get across in his follow-through. Dravid squeezed one off bat and pad, but it lobbed out of short-leg’s reach.

Patience

Gambhir, although less certain than Dravid in the first session, wasn’t found wanting in patience and technique.

He made just 23 between lunch and tea, and spent nearly an hour on 83. His defensive play off either foot against both pace and spin was safe, his bat straight, the transfer of weight ideal.

Admirably, he didn’t stop advancing to the spinners — indeed, he brought up both his 50 and his 100 by gliding down the track to Vettori and striking the ball fearlessly to leg.

Dravid fell — or, to be precise, was felled — with tea approaching. The ball went off Dravid’s pad to short-leg, and although his bat was in the mix, it hadn’t made contact with ball. But umpire Ian Gould needed little convincing.

Dravid had been dismissed at a similar time on Saturday, and India’s bottom-half promptly folded, but Tendulkar banished any such worry on Sunday. His batting against the second new ball was magical.

Gambhir had to bat through pain in the last part of the day, after his right arm started to cramp.

But he’s an incredibly tough young man, and he stayed the course to earn a warm hug from Tendulkar as the pair was clapped off the field by New Zealand’s bowlers, who had given it their all.

SCOREBOARD

New Zealand - 1st innings: 619 for nine decl.

India - 1st innings: 305.

India - 2nd innings: G. Gambhir(batting) 102 (290b, 14x4); V. Sehwaglbw b J. Patel 22 (21b, 4x4); R. Dravidc How b Vettori 62 (220b, 6x4, 1x6); S.Tendulkar (batting) 58 (113b, 8x4,1x6); Extras (b-5, lb-1, nb-2) 8; Total(for two wkts. in 107 overs) 252.

Fall of wickets: 1-30 (Sehwag),2-163 (Dravid).

New Zealand bowling: Martin 18-5-47-0, O'Brien 21-6-50-0, Franklin11-3-23-0, J. Patel 28-6-73-1, Ryder4-3-5-0, Vettori 24-7-48-1, Taylor1-1-0-0.

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