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Kiwis left tottering

S. Dinakar
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CRICKET / Visitors reduced to 148 for seven

HAPPY BUNCH: With Ishant Sharma, S. Sreesanth and Pragyan Ojha picking up two wickets each, the Indians will have returned to the pavilion satisfied with the way the truncated day's play had gone. — Photo: K.R. Deepak
HAPPY BUNCH: With Ishant Sharma, S. Sreesanth and Pragyan Ojha picking up two wickets each, the Indians will have returned to the pavilion satisfied with the way the truncated day's play had gone. — Photo: K.R. Deepak

The Indian bowlers made major inroads on a truncated but dramatic opening day of the third Test at the VCA ground here on Saturday. When play concluded amid fading light, New Zealand was struggling at 148 for seven after electing to bat.

The moisture on the surface offered a measure of assistance to both the pacemen and the spinners.

The Indians bowled in the right areas. Paceman Santhakumaran Sreesanth and left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha were particularly impressive. Importantly, the Indian fielding was sharp; catches were held and crucial stops made in the deep.

New Zealand appeared to lack belief after punishing opener Brendon McCullum suffered a back injury minutes before the toss while training.

When McCullum walked in after the fall of the sixth wicket — the Kiwis slumped to 82 for six — much of the damage had been done. The wounded McCullum is batting on a fighting 34.

In adversity, the left-handed Jesse Ryder displayed character with a well-made 113-ball 59.

The left-hander picked Ojha from the off-stump, whipped him to the fence. He used the depth of the crease for the cut shot. He also lofted Harbhajan over his head and then swept the off-spinner.

Significantly, much of Ryder's innings was played in pain; his calf strain had returned to haunt him.

Both, McCullum and Ryder had entered the match with injuries and were, thus, not allowed runners.

The spirited partnership of 42 — both batsmen hobbled across for singles — concluded when Harbhajan had Ryder caught at extra cover after the left-hander miscued a back-foot punch.

Harbhajan bowls better

Harbhajan, who gave a better account of himself, could have consumed McCullum with a straighter one. However, the edge flew between 'keeper Dhoni and Laxman at slip. McCullum clearly struggled but showed flashes of brilliance. His bat-speed was evident when he flashed Ishant Sharma past point.

McCullum, though, was fortunate to receive the benefit of doubt on three when he nicked a Sreesanth delivery, seaming away from him, into a diving Dhoni's gloves. Replays confirmed an edge.

Given his importance to the side, the Kiwis took a chance by picking McCullum. However, the opener needed time to make a semblance of recovery and New Zealand was forced to change its batting order.

Martin Guptill walked out with Tim McIntosh. Predictably, there was seam movement for Sreesanth and Ishant. However, apart from the odd delivery, there was not too much help in terms of bounce.

Running in with rhythm, Sreesanth bowled with exemplary wrist and seam position. The paceman consistently hit the seam.

Guptill succumbed to a mean delivery that moved away in the corridor from just short of a good length.

Sreesanth switched his line admirably to the left-handed McIntosh. The ball came in a tad from close to the off-stump to castle the batsman; the Kiwi played down the wrong line. New Zealand was at an uneasy 16 for two.

In a probing burst of six overs with the new ball, Sreesanth had prised out two batsmen for 12 runs.

The heat was on the Kiwis when Taylor and Ryder joined forces. Taylor lived dangerously, edging an attempted whip-drive off Ishant past the slips.

Ishant gets Taylor

To his credit, Ishant mixed his length well. He set up Taylor with a few deliveries lacking in length and then sent down an off-cutter, on a good length, just outside the off-stump. Pushing forward, the batsman was beaten by the inward deviation to be adjudged leg-before.

The Kiwis soon found themselves in deeper trouble. The in-form Kane Williamson, done in by Ojha's flight and dip, was held at short-cover. Operating with a semi new-ball, Ojha deserves credit for foxing the batsman in the air.

Skipper Daniel Vettori let himself and his team down. The left-hander played on attempting a wild pull to a short-pitched delivery way outside the off-stump from Ishant.

Amid attacking fields, there was little respite for the Kiwis. Ojha struck again with a classical left-arm spinner's delivery. The flighted ball curled and spun away from the right-handed Gareth Hopkins. Raina pouched the edge at second slip.

The Test commenced after a delay of 140 minutes due to some wet spots in the outfield following Friday's rain; only the square was covered. The BCCI does have the resources to ensure that all international grounds in the country have a large single cover or a collection of smaller ones to protect the entire ground. Play will begin at 9 a.m. on Sunday to make up for lost time.

New Zealand — 1st innings: T. McIntosh b Sreesanth 4 ( 32b, 1x4), M. Guptill c Dhoni b Sreesanth 6 ( 14b, 1x4), R. Taylor lbw b Ishant 20 ( 24b, 3x4), J. Ryder c Raina b Harbhajan 59 ( 113b, 5x4), K. Williamson c Sehwag b Ojha 0 ( 3b), D. Vettori b Ishant 3 ( 6b), G. Hopkins c Raina b Ojha 7 ( 36b, 1x4), B. McCullum (batting) 34 ( 80b, 3x4), T. Southee (batting) 7 ( 31b, 1x4); Extras (b-1, lb-4, nb-3): 8; Total (for seven wickets in 56 overs): 148.

Fall of wickets: 1-11 (Guptill), 2-16 (McIntosh), 3-42 (Taylor), 4-43 (Williamson), 5-51 (Vettori), 6-82 (Hopkins), 7-124 (Ryder).

India bowling: Sreesanth 9-4-20-2, Ishant 13-2-32-2, Ojha 19-2-49-2, Harbhajan 15-1-42-1 .

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