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Indians cramped into Vincent, Richardson onslaught

Chandigarh: Mark Richardson was five short of his third Test century when he collapsed with cramps in the right leg. A stretcher was promptly taken, but the John Wright-admirer chose not to come off. By stumps on Day I of the second (and deciding) Videocon Test at the PCA Stadium in Mohali, though, Team India could have done with 11 stretchers.

Be it on the 1988-89, 1995-96 or the 1999-2000 tours, not one New Zealander managed a century in the nine Tests. Yet, Thursday saw two centurions from among the Black Caps, a performance which ensured Rahul Dravid’s (stand-in) captaincy got off to an awful launch.

Actually, Dravid didn’t get it right at the toss. Then, it didn’t help that he dropped the left-handed Richardson in the very third over, off Zaheer Khan. The opener was on ten and, making the most, remained unbeaten on 102 (360 minutes, 284 balls, 14x4) at the close.

Worse, except Lakshmipathy Balaji’s superb opening spell (8-3-17-0) and Anil Kumble’s effort, in patches, the bowlers were a big disappointment. Kumble, by the way, took the only wicket.

Surprisingly, the wicket (which looked much less green that it did 24 hours before the match) didn’t offer the expected bounce, but curator Daljit Singh shouldn’t be saddled with the villain’s hat.

Zaheer hardly functioned as the strike bowler and Harbhajan Singh was, at best, monotonous. Dravid, for his part, effected changes in plenty. Introducing part-timer Sachin Tendulkar as early as the 11th over was seen as a ‘bold’ move, but didn’t work. Of course, he should have exercised the (debutant) Yuvraj Singh option. Just in case...

If anything, this flop show is bound to make the debate over having a fifth specialist bowler that much more passionate.

Richardson’s sterling essay, as also fellow-opener Lou Vincent’s 106 (319 minutes, 227 deliveries, 14x4, 2x6) took New Zealand to a terms-dictating 247 for one. It’s too early to write off India, but it’s frightening that we have lost three of the previous five Tests when both (visiting) openers authored centuries. The other two ended indecisively.

Dravid, however, isn’t despondent. “Yes, it was a tough day but, then, that’s part of the game... Can we come back strongly' Definitely, only we will need a couple of wickets early on the second morning,” he told The Telegraph, moments after emerging from the dressing room.

Incidentally, the Indians were closeted in their private corner for almost an hour after stumps. One assumes Dravid and coach Wright must have had a few things to say. Perhaps, even regular captain Sourav Ganguly, who later headed for the Fortis Hospital instead of the hotel as there was much pain in the area operated upon on Tuesday.

While the bowlers have to carry the proverbial can, the New Zealand openers should be complimented for extraordinary commitment. Their 231-run partnership wasn’t attractive, but served the team’s cause admirably. That the Indians constantly had to change their line, given the left-right combination, worked to the Black Caps’ advantage.

Session No. 1 produced 77 runs, 91 came in the next (when the turnout was around 18,000-20,000) and 79 in the final session.

The individual milestones apart, Richardson and Vincent rewrote more than one record. To start with, they relegated the existing highest for the first wicket at the PCA Stadium — 137 by Sadagopan Ramesh and Devang Gandhi in the 1999-2000 Test — to a distant second.

Then, they bettered New Zealand’s best (against India) for any wicket — an unbeaten 222 between Bert Sutcliffe and John Reid, for the third, in New Delhi (1955-56).

Indeed, only twice before have both the visiting No. 1 and No. 2 posted centuries in India: Allan Rae and Jeff Stollmeyer of the West Indies in 1948-49 (Chennai, then Madras); South Africans Gary Kirsten and Andrew Hudson, in 1996-97 (Calcutta).

“Well, we’re looking at a million runs,” quipped Vincent, a centurion on debut (versus Australia, 2001-2002), during his interaction with the Media. Having said that, he accepted that being dropped for the Sri Lanka tour, earlier in the year, made him more determined to build each innings.

While Vincent scored seven in the first innings at Motera, he scripted a character-packed 67 in the second, allowing New Zealand to save that Test. Today, he got his second century.

“Nowadays, I’ve changed my style... You won’t find me going for a variety of strokes... At this level, it’s important to consolidate before...” he pointed out. Asked why he required a runner (Paul Wiseman) for some time in the early part of the afternoon, Vincent answered: “Because I was struck on the shin by Sachin...”

Wiseman, though, was sent back soon after he escaped being run out by Dravid. He survived, thanks to Parthiv Patel’s ineptness. Vincent, who would have been the real sufferer, hadn’t even reached fifty by then.

In fact, Parthiv was tardy for much of the day — he conceded 13 byes — and may pay the price when the national selectors ‘review’ the squad already chosen (but not announced) for the first three tri-series matches.

Being in a rare position at home, Team India will have to start afresh with vigour and direction that appeared lacking on Thursday. Really, Vincent summed it well: “For a change, India will have to do the running...”

As expected, Yuvraj took Sourav’s place, while quick Ian Butler replaced Jacob Oram.

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