Laxman, Harbhajan save India

Turbanator slams maiden Test hundred as the hosts pull off a remarkable draw

Laxman, Harbhajan save India

The two heroes of Eden Gardens 2001 relived a dream at the Sardar Patel Gujarat stadium on Monday, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow this time an honourable draw as opposed to an incredible triumph.

VVS Laxman knows a thing or two about the art of batsmanship in extreme duress. India’s eternal crisis man is a past master at retrieving lost causes. His knowledge of the requirements to tide over pressure situations rubbed off on Harbhajan Singh (115, 274m, 193b, 11x4, 3x6), who joined his great friend Anil Kumble in the list of Test centurions.

India began day five of the first Test against New Zealand with the proverbial mountain to climb, needing to bat with discipline, diligence and application – the very traits conspicuously absent on Sunday – if they were not to court embarrassing defeat.

Laxman’s unbelievably composed presence, and Harbhajan’s obvious willingness to emulate his more accomplished partner, meant New Zealand’s designs of a famous victory were emphatically repelled on a day of two parts.

The first half was absorbingly riveting, not even the lack of bowling resources and a placid pitch making India’s job any easier when they resumed on 82 for six, ahead by just 110. Once the shores of safety were sighted as Laxman and Harbhajan went to lunch unseparated on 164 for six, the focus shifted to individual milestones.

Harbhajan’s tryst with a maiden century was not to be denied, but Laxman (91, 353m, 253b, 9x4) must count himself supremely unlucky not to translate another of his in-the-trenches compilation into a 17th century. Their 163-run (230m, 328b) seventh-wicket association helped India recover substantially from 15 for five to 266 all out, setting New Zealand a token target of 295 in 25 overs. Play was called off before the mandatory overs began, but there was time enough for Tim McIntosh to pick up his second duck in four days. New Zealand finished on 22 for one, honours even with two to play.

Honours even was precisely what India’s goal was at the start of the day. Perilously perched with very little on the board and very little in the hut, it was imperative for Laxman and Harbhajan to not just bat time, but also make that time count. From the off, it was obvious that Laxman’s objective was occupation of the crease and that Harbhajan would play his natural game, obdurate defence alternating with well-executed strokes and the occasional rush of blood.

Chris Martin went flat out in his first spell, hoping to replicate the heroics of the previous evening, but an older, softer ball hardly facilitated swing. Neither Daniel Vettori nor Jeetan Patel found any purchase even on the fifth-day track; the Kiwis sorely missed the extra pace of the injured Hamish Bennett, but India were not complaining.

There is no gainsaying what might have happened had Vettori from mid-off scored a direct hit to run out Harbhajan in the day’s third over. That was about the only major scare; admittedly, the odd edge either fell in no-man’s land or died on close-in fielders, but largely, neither batsman was in any genuine trouble.

Harbhajan sacrificed aggression for circumspection post lunch as a century loomed while Laxman went in the opposite direction after he was convinced India were in no danger. By then, a sense of the inevitable had gripped the sparse gathering, but the air of anticipation as the two right-handers began their personal race to three-figures was hard to miss.

Things had come to such a pass that only an error could deny either man. That error came from Steve Davis, the Australian umpire sending a dumbfounded Laxman on his way when he inside-edged Vettori on to his pads. To his credit, the Hyderabadi didn’t remonstrate, the joy at having hauled the side out of the woods overshadowing the disappointment of missing out on a personal milestone.

Davis came up with another shocker next ball to rule Zaheer Khan leg before, so it was no surprise that Harbhajan, then 95, was taking no chances. A gargantuan six off Vettori, sent soaring over mid-off, triggered great delight in the middle and tremendous joy in the changing room. Game salvaged, pride restored. Not for nothing, India seemed to say, are we number one.

ScoreBoard

INDIA (I Innings): 487 all out in 151.5 overs
NEW ZEALAND (I Innings): 459 all out in 165.4 overs
INDIA (II Innings, O/n: 82/6):
Gambhir c Hopkins b Martin    0
(3m, 3b)
Sehwag (run out)    1
(11m, 1b)
Dravid c Hopkins b Martin    1
(20m, 16b)
Tendulkar b Martin    12
(27m, 25b, 2x4)
Laxman lbw Vettori    91
(353m, 253b, 9x4)
Raina c Taylor b Martin    0
(8m, 4b)
Dhoni b Martin    22
(97m, 72b, 1x4)
Harbhajan c Watling b Taylor    115
(274m, 193b, 11x4, 3x6)
Zaheer lbw Vettori    0
(1m, 1b)
Ojha (not out)    9
(44m, 37b, 1x4)
Sreesanth c Hopkins b Taylor    4
(6m, 11b, 1x4)
Extras (B-10, NB-1)     11
Total (all out, 102.4 overs)     266
Fall of wickets: 1-0 (Gambhir), 2-1 (Sehwag), 3-2 (Dravid), 4-15 (Tendulkar), 5-15 (Raina), 6-65 (Dhoni), 7-228 (Laxman), 8-228 (Zaheer), 9-260 (Harbhajan).
Bowling: Martin 27-8-63-5 (nb-1), 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 (II Innings):
McIntosh lbw Zaheer    0
(4m, 6b)
McCullum (not out)    11
(39m, 28b, 2x4)
Watling (not out)    2
(34m, 26b)
Extras (B-4, W-5)     9
Total (for 1 wkt, 10 overs)     22
Fall of wicket: 1-4 (McIntosh).
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 (w-5).

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