Opener Gautam Gambhir scored a magnificent 167 to tighten India’s stranglehold on New Zealand in the third and deciding Test at the Basin Reserve yesterday.
India were 531 runs ahead of New Zealand and had reached 349 for five in their second innings when bad light stopped play on the third day.
Gambhir and Rahul Dravid ended any hopes of a New Zealand comeback by putting on 170 runs in a second-wicket partnership which ended soon after lunch with Dravid’s dismissal for a patient 60.
But after the cheap dismissal of Sachin Tendulkar for nine — much to dismay of the Indian fans — veteran VVS Laxman joined Gambhir to add another 106 runs for the fourth wicket.
The tourists lead the series 1-0 and need only a draw to ensure their first series win in New Zealand since 1968, with only weather likely to save New Zealand from a heavy loss.
New Zealand have been on the back foot since Saturday, when they were dismissed for 197 in reply to India’s first innings total of 379.
The 27-year-old Gambhir batted for nearly seven hours for his sixth Test century, hitting 16 fours and two sixes in a nearly faultless display.
He brought up his hundred by stroking Tim Southee through the covers for a boundary in the second over after lunch and smashed the next ball through gully for another four.
New Zealand had a grim day in blustery conditions in the field, although their heads lifted when captain and left-arm spinner Daniel Vettori captured two wickets after lunch.
Vettori toiled on from one end through the afternoon without further reward but the decision to introduce the new ball 10 overs after tea brought instant results.
Iain O’Brien took the vital wicket of Gambhir in the first over of his new spell, trapping him lbw after a slightly angled shortish ball straightened on the batsman.
O’Brien struck again in his next over with an in-swinging ball of good length going between Laxman’s bat and pad to smash into the stumps.
Earlier, India had dominated the morning session as Gambhir and Dravid put on 119 runs without loss after resuming in the morning at 51 for one.
Opener Virender Sehwag had been the only wicket to fall late on Saturday after scoring 12 in his trademark high-risk style.
New Zealand’s only chance of getting back into the match was to take several early wickets but Gambhir and Dravid were rarely troubled on the increasingly sedate pitch.
They brought up their 150 partnership in the penultimate over before lunch, with Gambhir taking the lead and Dravid content to play the anchor role.
Dravid, the veteran batsman nicknamed “The Wall,” brought up his 57th half century in uncharacteristically flamboyant style, hitting Southee for consecutive fours behind square and through mid-wicket.
India’s charge slowed in the afternoon after Dravid’s dismissal, which followed an inspired piece of anticipation by wicketkeeper Brendon McCullum.
McCullum saw Dravid was shaping for a paddle-sweep shot off Vettori and moved quickly across to the leg side, where he was in a perfect position to take the catch as a bemused Dravid looked on.
Captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni was not out 16 and Yuvraj Singh was on 15 at stumps.