A vital 158-run sixth-wicket partnership between skipper Brendon McCullum and BJ Watling helped New Zealand save face in the second Test versus India, finishing day three six runs ahead.
McCullum (114 not out, 237 balls, 14 fours, one six) hit a counter-attacking ninth Test hundred and Watling (52 not out, 208 balls, four fours) scored his seventh Test fifty at the Basin Reserve as they reversed the trend from the morning to closed on 252 for five in their second innings.
Zaheer Khan (3-60) was the pick of the bowlers for India, charging his way through the day, albeit losing steam in the final session. Ishant Sharma (0-63) and Mohammad Shami (1-72) did much of the horse work. Ravindra Jadeja (1-49) bowled a whopping 26 overs, the most of all four bowlers, as the green pitch flattened out under the sun and the match went into the fourth day.
Starting at 146 for five after tea, New Zealand were staring down the barrel for there was a lot of hard grinding to be done by this pair of batsmen to save the day, if not the match. They had laid good foundations for after lunch, putting the onus on playing for time and not scoring, with only 59 runs coming in the afternoon session.
They carried on in the same fashion, picking and choosing which deliveries they wanted to score off, even if the Indian bowlers were maintaining discipline throughout. Shortly into the session, in the 68th over, McCullum reached his half-century off 146 balls, with five fours. It was a grinding innings and he passed 5,000 Test runs in the process as well.
India had a couple of good shouts against the two batsmen here and there, but nothing close to the two chances they had in the day against the Black Caps’ skipper. In that light, they waited patiently for the new ball to arrive, when in the 80th over of the innings, McCullum and Watling raised their 100-run stand.
The new ball, taken immediately, did not do the trick however. LBW shouts were turned down and the outside edge was beaten more than a couple times, but the duo continued to earn the rewards of their hard work.
Then, in the 88th over, with a six off Ishant, McCullum reached his hundred off 197 balls, including 12 fours. It was a five-hour work in progress and he wasn’t done just yet, seeing off the day’s play.
At the other end, giving him able support, Watling too reached a well-deserved personal landmark, bringing up his half-century in the 93rd over, off 190 balls. He batted for four hours and hit only four fours, showcasing great discipline.
It also marked their 150-run partnership and in doing so, they broke the record of Chris Cairns and Craig McMillan, who had scored New Zealand’s previous best for the sixth-wicket in Tests against India. They had scored 137 runs at the same ground in 1998.
Earlier, the hosts had crawled their way to 146 for five at tea, after Zaheer had picked up two wickets in the morning session to reduce them to 87 for four at lunch. In the afternoon, at McCullum was joined by Corey Anderson (2) at the crease.
There was quite a bit of work to do considering how many runs were remaining to make India bat again, but four overs into the session Anderson tried to turn a slower one from Jadeja, while the ball looped up to offer a simple return catch to the bowler. The batsman was visibly displeased with his dismissal.
The captain was then joined by Watling and together they took the sting out of the Indian bowling attack. They had one plan, to present a dead bat to most of the deliveries and scoring was not one of their priorities, although they did manage to complete their 50-run partnership just before the break.
McCullum was lucky to survive again, when a tough return-catch chance was put down by Ishant in the 55th over. He was on 36 then, and this was his second life in the day.
In the morning session, New Zealand started their day at the overnight score of 24 for one, with Kane Williamson and Hamish Rutherford looking to bat for time and save this Test match.
Their hopes were dashed early, as in only the second over of the day Zaheer struck and removed Williamson, who was out driving the ball, giving a light edge to keeper-captain MS Dhoni. The in-form batsman scored only seven runs (22 balls) and it was a major blow for their hopes.
21 years after their fathers Ken Rutherford and Rod Latham batted together for New Zealand, Hamish and Tom Latham did so for their team, and went past the meagre 15 runs their old men had managed.
Even so, their partnership wasn’t a very fruitful one with 25 runs for the third wicket coming in trickles as the Indians bowled with patience and kept a check on the scoring.
They did enough to take the score past the 50-run mark in the 16th over. But in the very next one, Zaheer struck again, removing Rutherford as he nicked one to Dhoni again. He scored 35 runs, facing 55 balls and hitting six fours, yet another heavy blow for the Black Caps as a set batsman departed.
New batsman McCullum started slowly and was given a life when on 9, as Virat Kohli dropped a simple catch at silly mid-on off Shami in the 29th over. But the bowler struck back at the stroke of lunch and had Latham caught behind. He made 29 runs, off 64 balls, with three fours as the hosts were struggling to come to terms with this pitch in the second Test.
On day one, Ishant Sharma’s best Test figures of six for 51 bowled New Zealand out for a paltry 192 runs. Then, on day two, Ajinkya Rahane (118) struck his maiden Test hundred to take India to 438 in their first innings, a lead of 246 runs.
© Cricket World 2014