Kiwis soar on Martin's swing

Kiwis soar on Martin's swing

NZ pacer grabs five for 25 as India face an uphill task of saving the match on final day

Kiwis soar on Martin's swing

India have had their fair share of stunning batting collapses, but seldom in the third innings of a Test at home on a track that, until then, had promised nothing but heartbreak for the bowlers.

Chris Martin (5/25) changed that perception with a remarkable spell of new-ball bowling to leave New Zealand standing remarkably close to one of the most gargantuan upsets in recent times.

The unsung right-arm paceman cut a swathe through India’s top-order at the Sardar Patel Gujarat stadium on a dramatic Sunday, basing his damage less around express speed and more on conventional swing, both into and away from the batsmen.

Kane Williamson’s maiden hundred, which made him New Zealand’s youngest centurion on Test debut, had pushed the visitors to 459 and within 28 of India’s 487, but that advantage appeared inconsequential as Martin knocked one celebrated scalp after another in an extraordinary, extended opening burst of 9-6-15-4.

Reduced to 15 for five – Virender Sehwag’s run out after a special effort from substitute Martin Guptill was perhaps the driving of the stake – India recovered slightly through eternal crisis man VVS Laxman to limp to 82 for six at stumps on day four for an overall lead of 110. It was the first time since 1952 at The Oval, when Alec Bedser and Fred Trueman had pinned them down to six for five, that India had lost five wickets for so few.

Martin’s heroics notwithstanding, there is little evidence of any significant misbehaviour from the surface, as Laxman and Mahendra Singh Dhoni showed during their half-century association.

India must put runs on the board, and occupy substantial periods of the final day, if they are not to be humiliated by a team ranked eighth in the ICC charts. Watching the top-order’s abject capitulation to an ageing quick who will turn 36 in a month’s time, it was hard to believe that this was the world’s number one Test team batting.

Martin bowled exceedingly well; his control was impeccable, he got the new ball to swing both ways, bent his back and obtained considerable bounce, but that was no excuse for 15 for five. Handicapped by the absence of Hamish Bennett, New Zealand were reduced to just one quick bowler. As it turned out, one was more than enough!

The rot set in in the very first over, Gautam Gambhir – his place now under immense scrutiny – tentatively poking outside off and inside-edging to the ’keeper, but the big blow came nine deliveries later. Rahul Dravid drove Daniel Vettori beautifully to the left of mid-off and set off for a single. Guptill dived full-length to his left, conjured a sensational stop and a brilliant back-flick to Vettori, who whipped off the bails and then found to his unalloyed joy that Sehwag was too committed to the single to be able to regain his ground.

When Dravid was dismissed in the last over before tea to a two-footed prod, India were three down for two, a stunned silence in the stands and signs of panic in the dressing room indicators of impending doom.

Sachin Tendulkar and Suresh Raina fell to extremely loose strokes, and Dhoni inside-edged a lifting delivery from the lion-hearted Martin – back for a second spell – on to his off-stump as ‘Tom’ finished with five for 25, his ninth five-wicket haul by far his most memorable. Perhaps, his half-hour occupation of the batting crease had done wonders for his confidence – Martin is the proverbial mug with the bat – but long before then, Williamson had restored Kiwi credibility with a truly special innings .

Overnight 87 out of 331 for five, the 20-year-old showed few signs of nerves, quickly bringing up three-figures and associating himself in a stand of 86 (119m, 162b) with Vettori. Unflustered and in complete command of the situation, Williamson kicked on until being undone by Pragyan Ojha at the stroke of lunch for a masterly, pugnacious 131 (391m, 299b, 10x4).

The tail wagged somewhat as New Zealand closed the deficit, Ojha’s Test-best four for 107 just reward for perseverance. Then, Martin took over to leave the Kiwis well placed for an historic triumph.

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