India prays for another Laxman rescue act

Kiwis soar

India prays for another Laxman rescue act

A lowly number eight in the ICC Test standings, the Kiwis were expected to pose no more than a token challenge to the number one team in the world. Chris Martin’s memorable display of swing bowling and a spineless batting performance have, however, left the hosts standing on the brink of a most humiliating defeat going into Monday’s final day.

Shortly before tea, when India dismissed New Zealand for 459 to take a token 28-run advantage, it was unthinkable that the visitors would have moved so tellingly into the ascendancy by stumps. The pitch had few demons, the New Zealand bowling fewer still, it appeared, given that they had just one fit paceman standing.

A groin injury had rendered the speedy Hamish Bennett unavailable, while a strained calf muscle prevented part-timer Jesse Ryder too from bowling. India were expected to do the running against a depleted attack, but no one would have imagined the connotation the word “running” was to take.

In the space of less than an hour, Martin sent the Indians running for cover, swinging the new ball both ways just enough to cause great mayhem.  His ninth five-wicket haul in Tests, at the ripe age of 35, has left India clutching at straws, a final tally of 82 for six giving them a highly inadequate total lead of 110.

As well as Martin bowled, India invited disaster with thoughtless batting, the sense of panic at the rush of early wickets all too obvious. Virender Sehwag’s run out to a sensational bit of fielding from substitute Martin Guptill amply illustrated the indecision in the Indian ranks, and the hunger and desire amongst the Kiwis.

VVS Laxman now stands as the last obstacle between New Zealand and a famous victory. Twice in his last two Tests, the elegant Hyderabadi has donned the rescuer’s cloak in eventually match-winning causes, first against Sri Lanka in Colombo, then more recently in Mohali against Australia when he turned certain defeat into a pulsating victory.

Batting on 38, he carries a nation’s hopes all over again. At the same venue where he made his Test debut 14 years back, Laxman faces another test of character. It’s too much to expect the same man to be the knight in shining armour time after time, but upon his broad shoulders rest the destination of this Test. Monday may not be for the faint-hearted.

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