| Zaheer Khan is congratulated by teammates after he bowled Stephen Fleming in Ahmedabad on Thursday. (Reuters)
Ahmedabad: Having had the experience of touring the sub-continent on previous occasions, New Zealand had left no stone unturned preparing for this tour. They were determined to make an impression on alien territory where others have flopped.
Yet, the Black Caps have put up all the resistance of a wet tissue paper on the first two days of this Test. Once Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly made it clear that they had little intention of batting a second time here, Zaheer Khan ripped through their top-order with immaculate ease.
“Haven’t decided if we’ll enforce the follow on. It all depends on when we manage to get them out and how much fresh the bowlers remain in this heat at that stage,” said Sourav later.
The gulf between the two sides seems unbridgeable. At times, even the idea that the visitors might create an impact in the Videocon series seems absurd.
If Dravid showed loads of determination, discipline and a fierce intensity to get runs on this slow track, Sourav matched him in every aspect. Together they added 182 for the fifth wicket.
Vangipurappu Laxman left early but Dravid ensured the initiative was not lost. Every known shot seemed within his reach as he kept the momentum going. His career-best 222 (365 balls, 24x4, 1x6) and third double century gave enough indication that he is set for another superb season having finished the previous one with four hundreds in as many Tests.
A faint edge to a ball from Jacob Oram, a rare mistake in an immaculate innings, brought about his end.
Sourav’s unbeaten hundred, 10th overall in 68 Tests, was a well calculated and planned innings. There was a certain transformation in his approach, as he was a bit restrained and cautious till he reached fifty. There were no lofted shots over the fielder’s head as the drive and the sweep became his most productive stroke. A packed offside field never prevented him from squeezing the singles.
Most of his eight boundaries and three sixes flowed in the latter stages of his essay. He smashed Oram several times and whenever Daniel Vettori erred, he delicately found the boundary.
Though the scoreboard will show the Indian skipper as 100 not out, it could well have been 102.
Sourav became the first captain in Test history to have his runs deducted for running onto the danger area when umpire Rudi Koertzen felt he had repeated the offence after being warned. The India captain, who had two of his runs deducted, was on 75 then. A rare instance in Tests, indeed.
He was penalized under Law 14 (b) which reads: “If there is a second instance of avoidable damage to the pitch by any batsman in that innings, (i) the umpire shall repeat the above procedure (caution the batsman), indicating that this is a final warning.
(ii) Additionally, he shall disallow all runs to the batting side from that delivery other than the penalty for a No-ball or a Wide, if applicale. The batsman shall retun to their original ends.
“I was warned and the umpires felt I had repeated the offence. So…,” Sourav said later.
Towards the end of the innings local boy Parthiv Patel had the crowd delirious with a cameo which included five boundaries.
However, in the end, Zaheer returned the hero with a superb spell of fast bowling during which he beat the batsmen with pace and swing.
First, he beat the in-form Mark Richardson with sheer pace, came in and rattled the timber.
Lou Vincent then could not get his bat away from one that left him and Parthiv came up with a sensational one-handed catch.
Stephen Fleming was trying to set the house in order when he offered no stroke to a delivery that brushed his thigh pad and knocked off the stumps. The pitch hasn’t shown signs of much deterioration but with the usual wear and tear it might offer assistance to the spinners from the second session on the third day.