Wellington: Indian bowlers made amends for the inept display by batsmen as they clawed back into the match with late strikes to reduce New Zealand to 201 for seven on a truncated second day of the first Test on Friday.
The hosts were cruising comfortably at 181 for three before the Indians staged a comeback of sorts with four dismissals in quick succession in the extended last session of play though Mark Richardson held one end up with a disciplined unbeaten 83.
Zaheer Khan (three for 42), Harbhajan Singh (two for 22) and Sanjay Bangar (two for 23) struck crucial blows to keep the visitors in the game after overnight rains wiped out the morning session. Opener Richardson played cautiously to remain unconquered after facing 221 balls while Daniel Vettori was yet to open his account at stumps as New Zealand gained a 40-run first innings lead on a Basin Reserve pitch which has eased out quite a bit.
Resuming at their overnight score of 53 for one, the hosts seemed to tighten their grip as Richardson and captain Stephen Fleming negotiated the Indian attack confidently and took the score to 92 for one at tea.
But the game changed rapidly after the break as the visitors sent back Fleming (25) and Craig McMillan (0) in the span of three overs to make inroads into the inexperienced middle order. Fleming was cleaned up by a beautiful delivery from Zaheer which left him a shade and hit his pad on way to clipping the bails. McMillan (9) was ruled leg before to Bangar.
The combined attack of Zaheer and Harbhajan, which came only in the last hour, suddenly made the New Zealand batsmen look vulnerable.
New Zealand seemed poised for a big lead, with Richardson intent on batting through the day, before Indians struck back with four wickets conceding only 22 runs in the final hour.
Zaheer, then, struck at the right moment surprising Astle by a lifting delivery and the batsman spooned a simple catch to Harbhajan in the covers while taking evasive action.
Harbhajan, who was held back by Sourav Ganguly till the 54th over, then foxed Styris with a drifter with Parthiv Patel effecting a smart stumping and shortly afterwards trapped Oram leg before wicket.
Encouraged by the sudden turnaround, Sourav brought back Zaheer in the penultimate over and the left-arm paceman closed the day with the scalp of wicketkeeper Robert Hart (6) who had looked obdurate and determined to last the day without any further loss.
India could have been in a much better position had V.V.S. Laxman held on to a straight forward catch of Richardson off Ajit Agarkar at second slip when the batsman was on 63.
Though annoyed at his mistake, the left-hander drove the very next ball to the long-off fence. After completing a run he furiously rehearsed the shot and the bat flew off his hand but fell safely in no-manís land as everyone watched in amusement.