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Five-star Zaheer gives India big lead

By Harish Kotian
Last updated on: April 04, 2009 12:06 IST
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- Scorecard: NZ vs India, 3rd Test

Zaheer Khan ripped through the heart of New Zealand's batting as India took control of the third and final Test in Wellington, on Saturday.

The left-arm pacer claimed five wickets for 65 runs as the Kiwis, replying to India's 379, were bundled out for 197 in the first innings, giving India a lead of 182 runs. Harbhajan Singh gave him good support, claiming three for 43 in 23 overs.

Ross Taylor was the only New Zealand batsman to offer resistance with a solid 42 before unluckily being adjudged caught down the leg side off Harbhajan.

At close on day two, India were 51 for 1 in their second innings, stretching their overall lead to 233 runs. Virender Sehwag was the batsman to perish, caught in the slips off Chris Martin for 12 in the second over of the innings.

Gautam Gambhir was unbeaten on 28, with Rahul Dravid giving him company on 9.

Morning session: (68 runs, 25.1 overs, 3 wickets)

Resuming on 375 for nine, India's first innings lasted just 10 minutes as Ishant Sharma was caught by wicketkeeper Brendon McCullum off Chris Martin for 18.

The visitors added just four runs on the second day from 13 deliveries before being dismissed for 379. Munaf Patel was left stranded on 15.

India must thank their lower order for taking them to this score after they were reeling at 283 for seven at one stage. The last three wickets added 106 runs between them as the tailenders proved their worth with the bat when the top order batsmen failed to carry on after getting starts.

Martin finished as the most successful bowler, claiming four for 98 in 25.1 overs, while Tim Southee and Ian O'Brien took 2-94 and 2-89 respectively.

(New Zealand innings)

Both Zaheer and Ishant started off well and stuck to a good line and length, making the batsman play as much as possible. With not much help from the pitch, the two pacers were looking to use the windy conditions at the Basin Reserve.

Zaheer had a huge leg before shout turned down against Tim McIntosh in the fifth over of the innings; the batsman was struck in line with the stumps but having the bat close to the pads saved him.

Martin Guptill looked comfortable right from the outset and brought up his first boundary in the sixth over when he lashed Ishant through point.

Zaheer toiled patiently and was rewarded when he went round the wicket and forced Guptill (17) to chop a short delivery onto his stumps.

McIntosh broke the shackles somewhat with consecutive boundaries off Ishant in the eighth over to move to 12.

Zaheer then put New Zealand in early trouble when he claimed the wicket of Daniel Flynn for 2. The left-hander tried to defend one that pitched just outside the off-stump and swung out, taking the edge straight to wicketkeeper Mahendra Singh Dhoni.

Ishant was unable to strike up a good rhythm bowling into the wind and replaced by Munaf Patel after a spell of four overs. While Zaheer used the wind to his advantage, Munaf concentrated on keeping it tight and bowling a tight line and length. He bowled a probing spell of five overs, giving away just eight runs, before being replaced by Harbhajan.

While McIntosh seemed content defending everything that came his way, Ross Taylor came out with a positive frame of mind but soon found himself also tied down by the Indian bowlers.

At the lunch interval, New Zealand were 64 for two in 23 overs, McIntosh on 24 (62 deliveries, four boundaries) and Taylor on 17 (45 deliveries, three boundaries).

Zaheer claimed two for 18 in eight overs.

Post-lunch session: (76 runs, 27 overs, 5 wickets)

It was Zaheer who did the trick for India after the lunch break. McIntosh was beaten by the extra bounce from the left-armer, which he could only edge straight to first slip. The left-hander never looked at ease during his knock of 32 from 74 deliveries before being undone by Zaheer.

A few quiet overs followed before Taylor broke the shackles with a cracking boundary through the covers to move to 33.

Jesse Ryder, New Zealand's hero of the series, then disappointed; a rather careless shot caused his downfall for 3. The left-hander tried to slash a short delivery from Zaheer over the slips but got a fine edge which was taken by Dhoni.

James Franklin walked in at number six but right from the outset looked all at sea. Things suddenly came to a standstill for New Zealand as the Indian bowlers dried up the runs, the hosts reaching 120 for four in 41 overs.

Harbhajan then compounded New Zealand's woes by claiming the key wicket of Taylor for 42. He pitched one around leg stump which Taylor tried to play fine down the leg side but could only edge behind and was neatly taken by Dhoni. A closer look at the replays suggested that the ball had missed the bat and hit the thigh pad instead.

Franklin ran out of patience before sweeping Harbhajan straight to Sehwag at square leg. The left-hander made 15 from 42 deliveries but never looked comfortable in the middle as New Zealand slipped to 125 for six.

Daniel Vettori showed his intent immediately as he took on Ishant's short deliveries and smashed a boundary and six through the third man region in the 45th over.

However, Ishant extracted revenge in his next over. The pacer beat Vettori with another short delivery but this time it was much closer to the batsman, who could only edge it behind and was out for 11.

Dhoni immediately realised that the best chance of bundling out New Zealand before the follow-on target of 180 was by keeping Brendon McCullum in check. He immediately spread his field around when McCullum came on strike, but once Tim Southee took strike everyone surrounded him.

At the tea break, New Zealand were 140 for seven in 50 overs, still trailing India's first innings score by 239 runs.

Zaheer had single-handedly turned the match in India's favour with two-wicket bursts on either side of the lunch interval for impressive figures of four for 46 in 14 overs. Harbhajan came up with another impressive performance, bowling 14 consecutive overs in the second session for figures of two for 23 in 16 overs.

Now only McCullum represents New Zealand's best chance of avoiding the follow-on, but one is pretty sure that even if they don't manage it, India will choose to bat again.

Post-tea session: (108 runs, 31 overs, 4 wickets)

Southee looked to take on the bowlers after the tea break and tried a few slog pulls against Zaheer before finally connecting one in the 53rd over. In the next, he launched Harbhajan over square leg for his third boundary to move to 16.

However, Zaheer cut short his adventure when another of his wild pull shots lobbed straight on the leg side and the bowler himself took the catch to complete a five-wicket haul. Southee was gone for 16 as Zaheer registered impressive figures of five for 61 and a chance of taking his first six-wicket or better in Test cricket.

Ian O'Brien took New Zealand past the follow-on mark of 180 when he guided Munaf Patel through the gully region for a boundary in the 61st over.

But India continued to throttle the Kiwis with wickets at regular intervals. Harbhajan took the key wicket of McCullum (24); the Kiwi wicketkeeper tried to cut a short delivery but edged it to Dhoni as New Zealand slipped to 186 for nine.

Last-man Chris Martin got the biggest cheer of the day when he smashed Harbhajan straight down the ground for a boundary, which was applauded by even the bowler.

But things came to end in the next over when Munaf returned to claim the wicket of O'Brien for 19. Martin was unbeaten on 4.

New Zealand were dismissed for 197 in 65 overs, giving India a first innings lead of 182 runs.

This fantastic bowling performance has all but secured India's grip on the match. If they go on to win or draw and complete their first series victory in New Zealand in 41 years much of the credit must go to Zaheer, who claimed five for 65 in 18 overs at a crucial juncture. He showed great patience at the start, just bowling in the right areas and waiting for the batsmen to commit mistakes. The five wickets were just reward for his hard work.

This was Zaheer's seventh five-wicket haul in Test cricket and third in New Zealand. Interestingly, India lost on the previous two occasions when the left-armer took five-wicket hauls in New Zealand during the 2001-02 series.

Harbhajan also made a big contribution, bowling majority of the overs, to finish with three for 43 in 23 overs.

With three more days to go, India will now look to consolidate their advantage with another good batting display in the second innings before leaving New Zealand to survive on a deteriorating fifth day wicket.

(India innings)

Virender Sehwag took just two balls to get going before smashing the third one from Southee through the covers for a boundary, in the first over of the innings.

He then slammed Martin for two successive boundaries before falling off the third delivery. Martin got one to bounce more and swing in and Sehwag could only glove it to the first slip fielder and was dismissed for 12 in the second over of the innings.

Once again Sehwag flattered to deceive as he has done right through the series. He will no doubt be disappointed to return with a tally of 140 runs from five innings at 28.00 without a single half-century to his credit. Even tailenders like Harbhajan and Zaheer have hit half-centuries in the series and Sehwag must be ruing missing out on such flat wickets.

The fall of Sehwag's wicket meant India were content to play the waiting game since they had so much time on hand. With around 40 minutes to go for close of play, both Dravid and Gambhir played to the merit of the ball and avoided any unnecessary risks.

Gambhir had initial problems against Franklin, but thwarted off his challenge with boundaries in consecutive overs through the off-side. At times, it seemed New Zealand were just going through the motions, hoping the miserable second day would finish as soon as possible.

At close, India were 51 for one in 16 overs, their overall lead stretched to 233 runs, with another three days in hand.

Gambhir was unbeaten on 28 from 45 deliveries, inclusive of four boundaries, while Dravid was content to play second fiddle and not out on 9 from 44 deliveries, with a single boundary.

One can now safely say that India are guaranteed at least a draw in the match, which means their first series win in New Zealand in 41 years is as good as wrapped up.

Just to let you know, the third day's play will begin an hour late, since daylight ends tonight in New Zealand and all watches in the country will be adjusted to an hour behind. New Zealand Cricket wants the match to start at the same time, 11am local time, which works out to 0430 IST, for the remaining three days of the Test.

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Harish Kotian

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