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VOL.33 :: NO.47 :: Nov. 25, 2010

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CRICKET / AHMEDABAD TEST

India survives a Kiwi peck or two

There was a point when the Kiwis appeared close to pulling off one of the biggest upsets in recent memory in the first Test. Ahead in the first innings by only 28 runs, India was reduced to 15 for five in the second. S. Dinakar reports.

K.R. DEEPAK

Rahul Dravid and Virender Sehwag... jogging a single in the first innings in which each scored a hundred. But, alas, Sehwag was dismissed for just one run, run out after a horrible mix-up with Dravid, in the second innings.

In the end, India was forced to save a Test it was expected to wrap up inside four days. Cricket does throw up surprises.

The Ahmedabad Test between India and New Zealand was a contest between the World Nos. one and eight. On the face of it, this was a mismatch. But then, cricket is not about numbers alone.

In fact, there was a point when the Kiwis appeared close to pulling off one of the biggest upsets in recent memory. Ahead in the first innings by only 28 runs, India was reduced to 15 for five in the second. Veteran seamer Chris Martin sliced through the Indian top and middle order in a vicious spell.

The events were even more dramatic considering India had overcome Australia 2-0 in a recent Test series at home. The host was high on confidence.

On the other hand, the Kiwis had been overwhelmed 4-0 by Bangaladesh in an away ODI series. This was considered by many to be the lowest point in the country's cricketing history. The inquest in New Zealand had been an angry one. Daniel Vettori's men were under enormous pressure before the first Test at Motera, a suburb of Ahmedabad.

The side could have so easily gone down the wrong path. Instead, it displayed great fight and bonding.

Eventually, a rousing 163-run partnership under immense pressure between V. V. S. Laxman, a man for crisis situations, and Harbhajan Singh for the seventh wicket salvaged the Test for India.

Harbhajan continued to be below par with the ball but walked away with the Man of the Match award for his batting. His knocks of 69 and 115 in the match were a blend of application and audacious strokeplay.

The cricketer relishes the sniff of the battle, is combative. However, Harbhajan needs to lift himself with the ball, don the role of the spin spearhead. In Ahmedabad, he was too quick through the air; this meant he was not relying on flight and dip.

On a rather sluggish track, it was essential for Harbhajan to lure the batsmen on to the front foot, deceive them in the air, snare them on the drive. However, his bowling was predictable for most part.

Laxman continues to wear the mantle of India's match-winner or saviour. Thrice in his last three Tests, Laxman has been flying high in the cauldron. His decisive unbeaten century on the final day of the third Test on a demanding pitch at Colombo's P. Saravanamuttu Stadium enabled India to square the series. It was an innings where he overcame the barrier of pain caused by a back spasm.

Then, in a nerve-wracking thriller at Mohali, Laxman guided India to a remarkable come-from-behind victory; he strung together a crucial ninth wicket stand with Ishant Sharma.

In Ahmedabad too, he guided the lower order in an admirable fashion. Laxman is calm and collected in stressful situations, constantly interacts with tailenders and instils confidence in them.

“He (Laxman) deserves more credit than me. He is the team's saviour,” said Harbhajan later.

K.R. DEEPAK

Kane Williamson... century on debut.

Of course, Laxman's ability to coax the ball into the open spaces with dexterous wrists enables him to farm the strike. With his shrewd mind ticking, Laxman manages the balls and overs exceptionally well while batting with the tail.

There are occasions when he displays faith in his partners. Laxman does comprehend the flow of the game well. His batting continues to be blissful. He is a wonderful timer, whether striking the ball from the sweet portion of the willow or coming good when his team needs him the most. His 91 at Motera was priceless.

The Test was not without other performers. The experienced Martin's spell in the second innings — India was reduced to 65 for six with the Kiwi paceman scalping five — was an incisive display.

The 35-year-old veteran pitched the ball in the right areas, and mixed the deliveries going away with the ones coming in or straightening. And he bent his back on a sub-continental track to extract unexpected lift.

New Zealand desperately missed pace support for Martin — the impressive young Hamish Bennett did not bowl after the first day — and spinners Daniel Vettori and Jeetan Patel did not quite exploit a track that would have provided them a measure of assistance had they hit the right spots.

Martin will remember his ninth five-wicket haul in Tests for long. He bowled his heart out under searing heat. Predictably, he tired.

As Vettori said later, “We lacked penetration on the final day. We needed a couple of guys who could bowl quick, sharp spells.”

During the Test, Vettori became only the third cricketer — after Kapil Dev and Ian Botham — to complete the double of 4000 runs and 300 wickets in Tests. The affable Vettori is a high-quality, multi-dimensional cricketer.

The match witnessed 20-year-old Kane Williamson batting with remarkable composure to notch up a century on debut. The right-hander, who is easy on the eye, can stroke off either foot. The ease with which Williamson picks the length sets him apart.

The talented Jesse Ryder, returning to Tests after 14 months, made a stirring comeback with a hundred; the left-right combination of Ryder and Williamson tormented India.

Ryder paced his innings well; between periods of defence, he unleashed some powerful cuts, pulls and drives. The burly left-hander seems keen to make up for lost time.

There were useful half-centuries too for New Zealand from Brendon McCullum, opening the innings in Tests, and the dynamic Ross Taylor. Taylor employed the cut productively; he was also provided width by the Indian spinners.

India was powered in the first innings by Virender Sehwag's rollicking 173 and a well-complied 104 from Rahul Dravid. Typically, Sehwag, blessed with reflexes and bat-speed, pounded the Kiwi attack and India reached a strong 487.

The Test was not without controversy. Some of the umpiring decisions in the match were debatable; Laxman was really unlucky to be adjudged leg-before in the second innings as there was a huge nick on to his pads.

THE SCORES

First Test, Sardar Patel Stadium, Motera, Ahmedabad, November 4-8, 2010. Match drawn.

India — 1st innings: G. Gambhir b Ryder 21; V. Sehwag b Vettori 173; R. Dravid b Martin 104; S. Tendulkar c & b Patel 40; V. V. S. Laxman lbw b Patel 40; S. Raina c McCullum b Williamson 3; M. Dhoni c Watling b Vettori 10; Harbhajan Singh c Hopkins b Vettori 69; Zaheer Khan b Vettori 1; P. Ojha lbw b Patel 11; S. Sreesanth (not out) 2; Extras (b-5, lb-2, w-1, nb-5) 13. Total: 487.

Fall of wickets: 1-60, 2-297, 3-317, 4-383, 5-392, 6-392, 7-410, 8-412, 9-478.

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 — 1st innings: T. McIntosh c Dhoni b Zaheer 0; B. McCullum st. Dhoni b Ojha 65; B. J. Watling b Ojha 6; R. Taylor c Laxman b Harbhajan 56; J. Ryder lbw b Sreesanth 103; K. Williamson c Laxman b Ojha 131; D. Vettori c Dhoni b Raina 41; G. Hopkins lbw b Ojha 14; J. Patel b Sreesanth 14; H. Bennett b Zaheer 4; C. Martin (not out) 3; Extras (b-5, lb-12, nb-5) 22. Total: 459.

Fall of wickets: 1-8, 2-27, 3-131, 4-137, 5-331, 6-417, 7-417, 8-445, 9-445.

India bowling: Zaheer 28.4-6-70-2; Sreesanth 26-2-88-2; Ojha 53-14-107-4; Harbhajan 43-7-112-1; Sehwag 1-0-7-0; Raina 12-1-42-1; Tendulkar 2-0-16-0.

India — 2nd innings: G. Gambhir c Hopkins b Martin 0; V. Sehwag (run out) 1; R. Dravid c Hopkins b Martin 1; S. Tendulkar b Martin 12; V. V. S. Laxman lbw b Vettori 91; S. Raina c Taylor b Martin 0; M. Dhoni b Martin 22; Harbhajan Singh c Watling b Taylor 115; Zaheer Khan lbw b Vettori 0; P. Ojha (not out) 9; S. Sreesanth c Hopkins b Taylor 4; Extras (b-10, nb-1) 11. Total: 266.

Fall of wickets: 1-0, 2-1, 3-2, 4-15, 5-15, 6-65, 7-228, 8-228, 9-260.

New Zealand bowling: Martin 27-8-63-5; Vettori 38-8-81-2; Patel 23-1-72-0; Williamson 4-0-18-0; Taylor 4.4-2-4-2; McCullum 6-1-18-0.

New Zealand — 2nd innings: T. McIntosh lbw b Zaheer 0; B. McCullum (not out) 11; B. J. Watling (not out) 2; Extras (b-4, w-5) 9. Total (for one wkt.) 22.

Fall of wicket: 4.

India bowling: Zaheer 4-2-7-1; Sreesanth 1-0-4-0; Ojha 3-2-1-0; Raina 1-0-1-0; Dhoni 1-0-5-0.



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