Bhajji assault has Kiwis stunned

Off-spinner's unbeaten 85 and Laxmans fifty help India nose ahead of visitors

Bhajji assault has Kiwis stunned

His confidence sky-high after the batting heroics in the drawn first Test, the 30-year-old closed in on an incredible second century in as many innings to help India wriggle out of a self-created tight spot.

At no time, despite beginning Sunday on a promising 178 for two, did India threaten to take the second Test away from New Zealand at the Rajiv Gandhi International stadium. There were pockets of laborious consolidation, a flowing half-century from VVS Laxman, a succession of poor strokes from the lower middle-order and a mini-collapse, the gains accrued from Virender Sehwag’s pyrotechnics of the previous evening casually, carelessly tossed away.

When last man S Sreesanth joined Harbhajan (85 batting, 133m, 82b, 7x4, 5x6) in the middle, India were 367, only 17 to the good in response to the visitors’ 350. By stumps, they had pulled away to 436 for nine, an overall lead of 86 that should allow them to call the shots on the morrow.

New Zealand will hurt as much from having leaked 69 (74m, 100b) to the unfinished tenth-wicket stand as by the psychological damage resulting from Harbhajan’s astonishing assault. Until his clean striking, New Zealand had been an epitome of discipline with the ball and brilliance in the field, keeping India’s stroke-minded batsmen on a tight leash. By the time bad light halted play, however, they couldn’t wait to escape to the safe confines of the dressing room!

His responsible maiden century in Ahmedabad with India staring defeat in the face has quite obviously stoked Harbhajan’s appetite for runs. He began with a couple of iffy bunts, lashing out in direct response to the rush of wickets, but once he calmed his nerves, he played some of the finest strokes of this Test.

His driving down the ground, mainly aerially because often, the Kiwis had all nine fielders riding the boundary, was an absolute delight, the ease with which he cleared the ropes mind-boggling. Vettori, canny with the ball and astute in his handling of his resources till that point, was clueless in the face of such aggression, complemented quite superbly by Sreesanth’s grim, never-say-die determination.

Healthy run-bank

The paceman took blows on his body and his fingers, but didn’t flinch one bit, feeding off his partner’s passion and fusing it with his own resolve. Together, they have done themselves too a huge favour, because the run-bank suddenly looks a lot more healthy.
The admirable final salvo should, however, not mask the indifference of the specialist batsmen. Barring Rahul Dravid and the peerless Laxman, again all sinewy grace in front of 30,000 adoring fans, there was a distinct lack of purpose in the face of tremendous accuracy from the three-pronged pace attack and the unflagging Vettori.

Hardly had the fans settled down than Sachin Tendulkar departed to the first poor stroke of the day, charging Vettori, edging an optimistic heave and seeing Ross Taylor stretch his right hand out to grab an excellent catch at slip. The morning was just 18 minutes old and the deafening sound of silence descended upon an expectant gathering, but only for a moment.

Local lad Laxman was welcomed by a standing ovation, and the 36-year-old didn’t disappoint. He and Dravid cut out all flair and focussed on consolidation in the first session, keeping the bowlers at bay with solid, stolid defence backed up by wonderful saves in the field, Kane Williamson and Brendon McCullum positively outstanding, though after tea, Laxman came into his own with twirly, wristy movements of his willow.

Both men were trapped leg before playing across the line, Dravid a little after lunch and Laxman immediately after tea, but at least they had put a price on their scalps. The same can’t be said of Suresh Raina and skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni.

Raina did little to justify his skipper’s immense faith with an ambitious, ill-advised heave off Vettori that picked out deep mid-wicket with unerring accuracy, while Dhoni reached out and tamely poked his opposite number to short cover. India looked set for only a small lead, only for Harbhajan to extend it beyond tokenism.

Score Board

NEW ZEALAND (I Innings): 350 all out in 117.3 overs

INDIA (I Innings, O/n: 178/2):
Gambhir c Hopkins b Southee     54
(206m, 129b, 7x4)
Sehwag b Vettori     96
(201m, 120b, 15x4, 1x6)
Dravid lbw Southee     45
(202m, 144b, 5x4)
Tendulkar c Taylor b Vettori     13
(52m, 28b, 1x4)
Laxman lbw Martin     74
(227m, 160b, 11x4)
Raina c Guptill b Vettori     20
(62m, 30b, 3x4)
Dhoni c McCullum b Vettori     14
(25m, 21b, 1x4)
Harbhajan (batting)     85
(133m, 82b, 7x4, 5x6)
Zaheer c Arnel b Southee     7
(37m, 37b, 1x4)
Ojha (run out)     0
(15m, 7b)
Sreesanth (batting)     14
(74m, 47b, 2x4)
Extras (B-4, LB-8, W-1, NB-1)     14
Total (for 9 wkts, 134 overs)     436
Fall of wickets: 1-160 (Sehwag), 2-160 (Gambhir), 3-184 (Tendulkar), 4-259 (Dravid), 5-311 (Raina), 6-326 (Laxman), 7-336 (Dhoni), 8-355 (Zaheer), 9-367 (Ojha).
Bowling: Chris Martin 29-6-87-1 (nb-1), Tim Southee 28-6-95-3 (w-1), Brent Arnel 24-5-79-0, Daniel Vettori 45-6-123-4, Kane Williamson 7-0-31-0, Ross Taylor 1-0-9-0.

Comments (+)