Harbhajan ton ensures draw

A maiden century to Harbhajan Singh restored India's dignity and ensured a draw in the first cricket test against New Zealand which ended here today.

Harbhajan defied the tourists until after tea on the final day here at Sardar Patel Stadium to make 115 in 274 minutes, the first time he has topped three figures in 88 tests for his country.

He shared a fighting stand of 163 for the seventh wicket with VVS Laxman after India resumed this morning at a precarious 82 for six, holding an overall lead of just 110 runs and under real pressure to deny New Zealand their third test win on Indian soil since 1955-56.

Harbhajan and Laxman were up to the task on a benign fifth day pitch still offering little encouragement to an under-staffed New Zealand bowling attack missing the injured Hamish Bennett and Jesse Ryder.

The hosts were finally dismissed for 266 after tea, leaving New Zealand a brief period of batting practice during which opener Tim McIntosh had time to bag a pair for the game.

He was leg before wicket for a duck to left-armer Zaheer Khan before his team reached 22 for one in the 10 overs before the close, with Brendon McCullum on 11 and BJ Watling on two.

The absence of Bennett and Ryder forced skipper Daniel Vettori to rotate an assortment of specialist and part-time spinners as well as pace spearhead Chris Martin, who performed beyond the call of duty when taking five for 25 yesterday to give the tourists a real sniff of causing a major upset.

But Martin was unable to repeat those heroics today as Harbhajan and Laxman guided India to safety with a mixture of watchful defence and fluent strokeplay.

Most of the fluency came from Harbhajan, whose confidence had been boosted by his then test best 69 in India's first innings of 487.

He survived a chance on 93 when Martin spilled a return offering to his right but Harbhajan deserved the letoff after sharing an Indian record seventh wicket stand with Laxman.

They were only parted when Laxman was most unfortunate to be adjudged leg before wicket to Vettori before tea when on 91.

Replays clearly showed ball hitting bat first but Australian umpire Steve Davis raised his finger nonetheless, depriving Laxman of a 17th test century.

Zaheer lasted all of one ball before falling victim to Vettori, then Harbhajan went after tea in soft fashion, spooning a full toss to Watling behind square to gift Ross Taylor his first test wicket.

Taylor did not have to wait long for his second when Shantakumaran Sreesanth edged behind to wicketkeeper Gareth Hopkins.

Martin ended with figures of five for 63 off 27 overs, Taylor enjoyed a cameo contribution of two for four off 4.4 while Vettori also managed two wickets but at a cost of 81 off 38 overs.

The second match of the three-test series starts at Hyderabad on Friday.

Martin runs hot as India melt

Chris Martin rediscovered the elixir of youth to ignite the BLACKCAPS victory hopes in the first cricket test against India here today.

The 35-year-old fast bowler cut a swathe through the vaunted Indian top order either side of tea to leave the hosts a quivering mess at 15 for five, holding an overall lead of just 43 runs on the fourth afternoon at Sardar Patel Stadium.

He later returned to remove skipper MS Dhoni, who dragged a shorter ball on to his stumps, to complete the mini rout with outstanding figures of five for 25.

India extended their advantage to 110 by reaching the sanctuary of stumps on 82 for six .

VVS Laxman is the only specialist batsman left for India, having ever so cautiously made his way to 34 at the close as the test enters a final day tomorrow full of intrigue and possibilities.

Martin produced a devastating opening spell of four for 15 off nine overs as he sliced and diced the Indian top order, inducing edges behind from Gautam Gambhir and Rahul Dravid, then bowling the legendary Sachin Tendulkar off an inside edge before having Suresh Raina snapped up at slip.

With Virender Sehwag having been run out in the second over after some snappy fielding by substitute fielder Martin Guptill, India were in utter disarray as the tourists did their best to fill gaps left by injuries to strike bowler Hamish Bennett and medium pacer Jesse Ryder.

Bennett has not bowled since sustaining a groin strain on the first day while Ryder strained a calf while compiling a classy 103 yesterday.

That meant that Martin shared the new ball with spinner Daniel Vettori, the skipper effectively closing down an end as his first spell saw only 10 runs come off seven overs.

Kane Williamson earlier become the youngest of eight New Zealanders to score a century on test debut when he progressed from his overnight 87 to 131 as the tourists dragged themselves to within 28 runs of India's first innings of 487.

He settled quickly into his work again this morning after sharing a record fifth wicket stand of 194 yesterday with Jesse Ryder, whose 103 marked his third century against India.

The 20-year-old sped through the 90s, a controlled hook then a crisp, fine flick off his hip against fast bowler Zaheer Khan carrying him to three figures after 309 minutes of high quality batsmanship at No 6 in the order.

He stayed until the tick of lunch, finally undone when edging left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha to slip to end a vigil of 391 minutes which featured 10 boundaries.

Vettori chipped in with 41, along the way passing the 4000-run barrier and becoming just the third man behind Englishman Ian Botham and Indian great Kapil Dev to score 4000 test runs and take 300 wickets.

The tail stuck around for a while without accomplishing much, leaving the stage to Martin to stir some life into a contest that to all intents and purposes had looked destined for a draw.


Disciplined middle order blunt Indian attack

Jesse Ryder and Kane Williamson led a disciplined batting effort which served New Zealand's purposes perfectly well as they prospered at a sedate rate in the third cricket test against India here today.

The tourists lost just three wickets on the third day while adding 262 runs, thanks to Ryder's 103 and an unbeaten 87 from Williamson on debut.

Their efforts were complemented by half-centuries to Brendon McCullum and Ross Taylor.

Responding to India's first innings of 487, the tourists were in danger of folding quietly when they slumped to 137 for four before lunch at Sardar Patel Stadium but a revival was launched from two middle order batsmen with particular points to make.

Williamson illustrated why he has attracted such positive press in making a most mature contribution as he joined Ryder in a record fifth wicket stand that realised 194 runs.

It bettered the 142 put on by Taylor and James Franklin against India in Wellington in March last year.

In his first test appearance in 15 months due to a succession of injuries, Ryder hit 10 fours and one six in 301 minutes following a shaky start when he survived a chance on 11 before finding his timing as he and Williamson resuscitated the tourists.

He raised his third test century, all of them against India, in the final over of the day before being trapped leg before wicket two balls later by fast bowler Shantakumaran Sreesanth.

Ryder required a runner when he suffered calf tightening when on 43, but it did not appear to limit his range of strokes as he managed to bludgeon a short ball from fast bowler Zaheer Khan to the mid wicket fence.

He later lifted left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha for four in a similar direction, celebrating by running halfway down the pitch before realising he was supposed to stay crease-bound.

Williamson, just 20, was a picture of composure from the time he strode to the middle, making light of the occasion as he showed an organised mental game and a stroke range to suit.

He is now within range of scoring a century on debut, a feat only seven New Zealanders have managed, after a consummate display of level headedness and an eye for a gap.

The tourists did get bogged down at times as the Indian bowlers adopted negative leg side tactics to apply pressure, but they refused to try to break the shackles by flamboyant means, answering coach Mark Greatbatch's pre-match exhortations for application and concentration.

On that score the New Zealand team could hardly be faulted even if progress was painfully slow at times.

After resuming this morning at 69 for two, New Zealand made pleasing progress through new opener McCullum and vice-captain Taylor, who made 65 and 56, respectively, before both departed in the space of three overs late in the morning session.

They put on a stand of 104 for the third wicket, keeping the Indians at bay until Taylor mistimed a drive off offspinner Harbhajan Singh to provide VVS Laxman with a catch at short mid wicket.

McCullum soon joined him, after being beaten in the air by Ojha before wicketkeeper MS Dhoni completed a smart stumping.


BLACKCAPS fight back on day two

New Zealand's batsmen were in a cautious mood as they set about India's healthy total in the first cricket test series here today.

Two early setbacks ensured the tourists were circumspect after India's first innings closed at 487 on the stroke of tea at Sardar Patel Stadium.

In the two hours to stumps, the tourists responded with 69 for two, with Brendon McCullum to resume tomorrow on 38 alongside vice-captain Ross Taylor on 18.

This pair duly eschewed an extravagance as they worked hard to deny the Indians any more breakthroughs.

The early removal of opener Tim McIntosh for a 10-ball duck and BJ Watling for six forced a conservative approach on a surface now receptive to slow turn.

That was enough to undo Watling, who lost his off bail to left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha when he leant forward to a ball which pitched on middle and gently spun away.

While that was very much a technical issue for Watling, who left the ground with his team at 26 for two, the earlier dismissal of McIntosh was a touch unlucky.

The tall left-hander did the right thing when swaying back to let go a shorter ball from fast bowler Zaheer Khan but unfortunately for him it bounced much lower than he expected and brushed his gloves en route to wicketkeeper MS Dhoni.

Earlier, the New Zealanders cut through the Indian middle order after the home side had resumed this morning at a powerful 329 for three.

Offspinner Jeetan Patel sparked a collapse either side of lunch when he dismissed both Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman for 40 as the Indians momentarily lost their way.

Both Tendulkar and Laxman looked set for long innings before Patel delivered a double blow, firstly inducing a return catch from Tendulkar with the 37-year-old just 10 runs short of becoming the first player to compile 10 successive test scores of 50 or better.

Laxman went in the final over before lunch, the ball beating the bat and striking the back pad for a leg before wicket decision.

Suresh Raina, Dhoni and Zaheer Khan all came and went cheaply as India lost five wickets for 29 runs to be 412 for eight but the New Zealanders could not deliver the knockout blow.

Instead, Harbhajan Singh smacked a career best 69 off 97 balls, including five fours and three sixes, before becoming the fourth and last victim of New Zealand captain Daniel Vettori.

Vettori shouldered a marathon workload of 54.5 overs and was well worth his four for 118, while Patel, despite taking valuable wickets, was too expensive in returning three for 135 off 29 overs.

Jeetan Patel - Post match press conference


Day 1: Sehwag and Dravid put India on top

A fabulous century from Virender Sehwag placed the hosts in the box seat after the first day of the first test at Sardar Patel Stadium here today.

The effervescent 32-year-old hit a stylish 173 to pilot India to a formidable 329 for three, helped out by Rahul Dravid, who contributed a workmanlike 104 in a blunt hint that he has emerged from a recent form slump.

These two shared an Indian record second wicket stand against New Zealand of 237, bettering the previous best of 204 between Sunil Gavaskar and Surinder Amarnath at Auckland in 1976.

The Indians will resume tomorrow seeking to methodically bat the tourists out of the match with Sachin Tendulkar on 13 and in pursuit of an unprecedented 50th test century, and VVS Laxman on seven.

New Zealand were on the back foot as soon as Indian skipper MS Dhoni won the toss and predictably chose to bat on a featherbed of a pitch, which last year coughed up seven centuries and close to 1600 runs during a high scoring draw between India and Sri Lanka.

Sehwag was insatiable, going hard at the bowling from the outset as he grabbed the early initiative and refused to let go.

After part-time medium pacer Jesse Ryder dismissed Gautam Gambhir for 21 in the 12th over of the morning, New Zealand were reduced to the role of ball chasers as Sehwag and Dravid imposed themselves on a pitch offering absolutely no encouragement to the tourists.

The forthright Sehwag, who was dropped on 144 and 155, finally departed midway through the final session when he played a tired stroke to New Zealand captain Daniel Vettori and watched as the ball deflected off his pad on to the stumps.

Sehwag's 22nd test century contained 24 fours and one six and came off just 199 deliveries, a breakneck scoring rate compared to 37-year-old Dravid, who picked up the pace after a pedestrian start and required 216 balls and 246 minutes to reach his 30th test hundred.

He fell victim to the second new ball 30 minutes before the close when dragging a ball from fast bowler Chris Martin on to his stumps.







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