India’s tail wagged on the first day of the third and deciding Test against New Zealand yesterday to ensure the tourists reached a respectable 375 for nine at stumps.
Half centuries from captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Harbhajan Singh in the bottom half of the order added to Sachin Tendulkar’s 95th score over 50 as India recovered from 204 for six soon after tea.
The stakes are high for both teams, with India desperate not to squander their 1-0 lead in the three-match series and miss out on their first series win in New Zealand since 1968.
India picked up the pace in the final session, adding 185 runs for the loss of four wickets, with the tailenders riding their luck in an aggressive show of defiance during the final hour.
Harbhajan finished with the second top score of 60 from 78 balls and importantly put on 79 runs with Dhoni (52), who was returning from a back injury that kept him sidelined in the drawn second Test.
“It was crucial to contribute lower down the order and if you look at the scoreboard we have got some decent runs,” Harbhajan said of the “fantastic” rearguard action.
New Zealand allrounder James Franklin admitted the Kiwis had probably allowed India 50 or 60 runs too many on the day.
“They got away with a few lucky shots and the ball didn’t quite go to hand so sometimes that’s the way it can be with the tail,” he told reporters.
But he added he thought the game remained evenly balanced.
“As long as we can get that [last Indian] wicket quickly tomorrow and set about batting for a day and a half to two days and that sets the game up well for us,” he said.
In a day of fluctuating fortunes, New Zealand’s bowlers toiled hard on a batting-friendly pitch as captain Daniel Vettori gambled the best chance for a series-tying victory was to bowl first.
When the sixth wicket fell shortly after tea with barely 200 runs on the board, it appeared the gamble had paid off.
But the story of the afternoon was illustrated by a single Iain O’Brien over in which Zaheer Khan smashed consecutive fours from the first four balls.
He was nearly caught on the fifth and the last was a bouncer which he fended to wicketkeeper Brendon McCullum, ending with 33 runs from 23 balls.
Opening bowler Chris Martin toiled hard all day to finish the best of the New Zealand attack with figures of three for 95 from 24 overs, while Tim Southee and Iain O’Brien took two wickets each.
AFP, JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA
Giantkillers Afghanistan claimed another 2011 Cricket World Cup Qualifier victim on Thursday with a 60-run triumph over Bermuda in Potchefstroom, South Africa.
The team that won tournaments in Jersey, Tanzania and Argentina to reach the final qualifying stage for the World Cup made 239-9 in 50 overs before dismissing their opponents for 179.
It was the second victory for the war-torn nation in as many days and they look set to reach the Super Eights phase, where the top four finishers secure places at the 2011 World Cup in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
Afghanistan today face Kenya, who recovered from a first-day loss to Netherlands with a nine-wicket victory over a United Arab Emirates side that made just 79 runs as Lameck Onyango claimed a career-best 6-14 in 10 overs.