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Checkmated in chase

- Dhawan’s 115, Kohli’s 67 not enough; wagner takes 4/62
Shikhar Dhawan after his century, on Sunday

Auckland: India chased valiantly but still fell short by 40 runs in the first Test, against New Zealand, here, on Sunday.

It would have been a record run chase and India looked perfectly capable of achieving it before a lower middle-order collapse saw the visitors slump to a heartbreaking defeat.

Courtesy the thrilling win, New Zealand lead the two-match series 1-0.

Chasing 407 for victory, India resumed their second innings at 87 for one on the fourth day morning. After losing Cheteshwar Pujara early in the day, India looked well on course with Shikhar Dhawan (115) and Virat Kohli (67) sharing 126 runs for the third wicket. But New Zealand pacer Neil Wagner took four crucial wickets in the post-lunch session to derail India’s chase at the Eden Park, here.

After a series of low scores, Dhawan returned to form as he cracked a patient century and anchored the Indian innings along with Kohli, who too looked in good touch. Dhawan, of course, benefited from a couple of dropped chances.

But Wagner’s double blow left India tottering at 270 for five at Tea and it was left to captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Ravindra Jadeja to bail the team out. The duo launched a counterattack to leave the hosts dazed, but once they departed India failed to overhaul the target.

Wagner took the wickets of Dhawan, Kohli, Zaheer Khan (17) and Dhoni (39) to return with an eight-wicket haul from the match, while Tim Southee added three wickets to his three-wicket haul in the first innings.

Earlier, India started the day still in need of 320 runs and Dhawan and Pujara looked to provide them a solid start. Dhawan, however, had a shaky start as he survived a couple of LBW shouts.

New Zealand were bowling a nagging line and length, especially Southee. In the fifth over of the morning, Southee bowled a near-perfect delivery to Pujara who was forced to play at it, edging it to the ’keeper. Pujara made 23 (71 balls).

Kohli then came out to bat and patiently saw off Southee’s impressive spell (6-3-4-1) along with Dhawan. Both mixed caution with aggression.

Dhawan and Kohli set the foundation for the chase but once they were gone, none of the Indian batsman lasted long enough to achieve the target.

New Zealand made a cracking start to the post-tea session dismissing Rohit Sharma (19) off the first delivery. He was caught behind off a perfect out-swinger from Southee.

Dhoni and Jadeja were at the crease and India still needed 137 runs for victory. Faced with the new ball, the duo went on a counter-attack. After Rohit’s dismissal, the first five overs cost 45 runs as the two batsmen smacked quite a few boundaries.

In all they added 54 runs in just 5.4 overs, with Jadeja being the more aggressive of the two. The all-rounder hit 26 off 21 balls, with four fours and a six. Their 50-run partnership came off only 33 balls.

When Jadeja was dismissed, caught at mid-on off Boult, India still needed 83 runs.

Zaheer soaked up a lot of pressure for 32 balls scoring 17 runs as Dhoni farmed the strike. Together they added 25 crucial runs, as the chase got more intense. But Wagner had Zaheer caught at slip to put an end to the partnership.

At eight down, it was up to Dhoni to get his side across the finishing line. But he perished when he played one on to the stumps chasing a short and wide one from Wagner.

That virtually ended India’s challenge. Boult wrapped up the Indian innings as he took Ishant Sharma’s (4) wicket.

If one wishes to be critical, despite the brave attempt by the Indians, one has to say that a little more patience by the lower-middle order might have helped.

The likes of Dhoni and Jadeja were very aggressive . While Dhoni’s 39 came off 41 balls, Jadeja’s 26 was scored off just 21 balls. Though Rahane fell to a dubious decision, he too was quite attacking (18 off 21 balls).

Counterattack might have been their strategy, but because it was a Test match, one wonders if a little more caution could have helped win the match.