Chandigarh: “Bat once and bat big” has been a key element of John Wright’s approach during his nearly three-year innings as Team India coach. In Mohali, though, the country he once led has caught on to his mantra. And, how!
It’s rare for a team from outside the sub-continent to bat through two days and still be just five down, going into the third morning. Yet, in the second (and deciding) Videocon Test, at the PCA Stadium, New Zealand have the luxury of choosing when to declare their first innings.
It’s an exceptional turnaround for a team which, at the close on Day-II in Motera, was 41 for three in response to India’s 500 for five declared. “We’ve set out to do the job (batting) once... We wish to press home and not give this initiative away,” remarked centurion Mark Richardson, indicating that the ‘target’ is in the vicinity of 575.
Earlier, there were whispers of a declaration at 550.
At the moment, New Zealand are 536 for five, with Craig McMillan on a smart 58 to Robert Hart’s ten. Resuming on 247 for one, Richardson and Co. added 289 to ensure they can’t lose the series. Even a 0-0 scoreline will, in effect, be seen as a victory for Stephen Fleming.
The Indians certainly bowled better, but that improvement wasn’t complemented by the catching. If a catch and run out were muffed on the opening day, Friday saw four catches being put down — including, admittedly, a difficult one by Yuvraj Singh.
Surprisingly, the day’s first culprit was stand-in captain Rahul Dravid. On Thursday, he gave Richardson a ‘life’ on ten. This time, he proved generous on 111 (off Anil Kumble). Not the sort to look a gift horse in the mouth, the left-handed opener eventually totalled a career-best 145 (548 minutes, 410 deliveries, 19x4).
Usually, it’s believed that captaincy can affect a batsman-captain’s batting. In Dravid’s case, his catching has suffered. For, otherwise, he is outstanding in the slips.
Later, Parthiv Patel — very lucky to have been selected in the XIV for the first three tri-series matches — emerged the villain of the piece not once but twice. Richardson was dropped sweeping Harbhajan Singh, while the Brisbane-born Scott Styris (the innings’ third and quickest centurion) wasn’t taken as he pushed at Sachin Tendulkar.
In fact, just about everybody The Telegraph spoke to during the day, expressed surprise at the selectors’ vote of confidence when somebody like Ajay Ratra has been dumped for no fault of his. Actually, even at his worst, Deep Dasgupta would have kept better.
Besides the misses and collecting diffidently, Parthiv has already conceded 21 byes. That’s criminal. Moreover, with 25 leg-byes also going New Zealand’s way, the sundries’ total has been helped to 50. Only thrice before — Edgbaston (60, 1979), The Oval (55, 1990) and Trent Bridge (50, 1996) have India conceded at least a half-century.
With such profligacy, the Fleming-led team erased more records: (a) Out of the window has gone the 502 in Christchurch (1967-68), the previous highest in bilateral engagements; (b) India’s 515 for nine declared, versus Sri Lanka (1997-98), the existing best in Mohali, is now history...
Additionally, with Richardson, Lou Vincent and Styris (119 in 293 minutes off 231 balls, 10x4, 2x6) collecting centuries, cricket now has seven instances of each of the first three getting to three figures.
The ground fielding wasn’t always spot-on either. And, when Virender Sehwag attempted a bit of soccer (in the process, conceding a boundary), Dravid gave him a mouthful. In any case, the stand-in captain must have been furious with a million things — Sehwag’s sloppiness came as the proverbial last straw.
Richardson was the first to depart, stepping out to Harbhajan, but that was as late as session No.2. Fleming, then, played a cameo before being deceived by one from Sachin which was quicker through the air and kept low after pitching.
Styris (the second overnighter) and Nathan Astle were the others to fall. As with Richardson, Styris posted his career’s highest — improving on the 107 (on debut) against the West Indies, in 2001-2002. Clearly, his improvement has been phenomenal. He did, after all, take to first-class cricket as a mediumpacer.
“We hope to build on the momentum gained by the draw in the first Test,” is what Fleming said on the eve of this engagement. Right now, he can’t complain. It’s Dravid who must be turning grey.
Meanwhile, New Zealand Cricket chief executive Martin Snedden is understood to have ordered an inquiry into Jacob Oram’s last-minute injury which made Fleming opt for Ian Butler.