|Rahul Dravid (top) forces one on the off side en route to his 73, while Daniel Vettori runs one down towards third-man during his gutsy 60 on the fourth day of the first Test in Ahmedabad on Saturday. (Reuters, AFP)
Ahmedabad, Oct. 11: It’s a record ask, 94 more than any team has achieved on Indian soil. West Indies reached 276 for a five-wicket victory at the Kotla in 1987-88. That remains the highest target accomplished by any side.
Having successfully battled the Indian spinners, New Zealand avoided the follow-on on Saturday morning, and are now up against a daunting target.
They need another 322 on the final day with nine wickets in hand.
Sourav Ganguly’s challenging declaration has thrown the match wide open and while the visitors are treating it as a ‘tough’ proposition, the Indians are cautiously optimistic.
It is the slow wicket that is keeping the Indians guessing. It has shown very little sign of wear and tear and unless there is some dramatic deterioration on the final day, the visitors can at least battle to survive the Test. The only ray of hope has been the awkward bounce at the pavilion end arising out of the bowlers’ footmarks.
Former India coach Aunshuman Gaekwad believes this slowness is a result of the monsoon showers that swept the city last month. Though the wicket appears dry, there is moisture underneath contributing to its slow and low nature.
Needing 19 runs to make India bat again, the tail-end resistance of Daniel Vettori and Paul Wiseman cut India’s lead to 160 with some determined batting. The pair added 67 for the ninth wicket as the offspinner defended doggedly and the left-arm spinner took the responsibility of piling on the runs.
Vettori’s 60 enabled him to complete 1000 runs as he frustrated the bowling showing good application and some intelligent use of the feet. He was the last man to fall in their innings.
Sourav had said on Friday evening that he would aim for a lead of around 350 and his batsmen set about the task in an enterprising way. The flamboyant Virender Sehwag, however, left early trying to cut one close to his body. His extravagant ways are clearly becoming a cause of concern for the thinktank, specially with the tour Down Under round the corner.
That meant Rahul Dravid was back in business. The uncomplicated fashion in which he goes about achieving his task is increasingly becoming an everyday affair. His consistency in the recent past can only match Matthew Hayden’s.
His presence at the crease meant India were in safe hands and although Akash Chopra and Sachin Tendulkar — skying Wiseman to long off — departed in quick succession, Laxman joined forces to step on the gas. Runs were scored straight and square of the wicket as India galloped away adding 48 in as many balls for the fourth wicket.
Dravid finally fell for 73 (86 balls, 6x4) as Sourav took charge. He lifted Wiseman and Vettori for two huge sixes and made sure the momentum was not lost. India finally declared 47 minutes after tea.
Wiseman returned best figures of four for 64 as the Indians fell going for their shots. But he was delighted. “Of course, it feels great, although I would have felt a lot better if I hadn’t dropped a catch off Vettori’s bowling. But yes, I did get probably the four best batsmen of spin bowling in the world, so that felt good. They were in an attacking mood, and that always gives the bowler a chance,” he admitted.
The crowd had hoped Zaheer Khan would produce an opening burst as in the first innings but he clearly looked out of sorts. Lakshmipathy Balaji, however, did bowl an enterprising spell, the outgoing delivery missing the bat closely on a couple of occasions. The Tamil Nadu pacer even had Lou Vincent caught off a no-ball.
In his penultimate over of the day Anil Kumble got one to bounce steeply off the footmarks and take the top of Mark Richardson’s bat. The reliable Chopra used his superb reflexes to complete the catch.