| Sachin Tendulkar drives during his innings of 55 in Mohali on Sunday. (PTI)
Chandigarh: Five wickets for New Zealand and a mere 187 runs for Team India. A distinctly lop-sided close-of-play balance sheet, from the home team’s perspective, but that’s been the bottomline on three of the four days at the PCA Stadium in Mohali.
At 390 for six, the Indians still require 41 runs to avert the follow-on in the second (and deciding) Videocon Test. Yet, with only a day remaining and the wicket as far from unplayable as the distance between Christchurch and Chandigarh, a draw seems the most likely outcome.
However, Daniel Vettori is convinced New Zealand can make it 1-0 if the follow-on is enforced: “We’ve done enough to get into this position... Right through, our objective was to set it up in a fashion that just one team had the chance of winning... We’ve accomplished that.”
The focus on those 41 runs apart, much of the attention will be on V.V.S.Laxman (not out on 86, 10x4) and Vettori. The former isn’t far from his fifth century, while the sport’s most underrated (left-arm) spinner looks good for another five-wicket haul. Vettori already has two in the bag, including Sachin Tendulkar, who did no justice to the standing he enjoys.
If not anything else, Vettori’s arm-ball has to be picked early, or...
For whatever reason, Sachin was made to look ordinary. Given his class, he will bounce back with a big one but, till then, the janata will talk of his failure (eight and seven) in the first Test and the uncultured innings in Mohali.
On Saturday evening, Laxman was reluctant to speak at length about his return to the one-day squad. In fact, he told The Telegraph: “I’m focussed on the Mohali Test... We have a fight on our hands and I’ll think of the ODIs once we’re through with this game...”
Not many hours later, he took charge after stand-in captain Rahul Dravid and centurion Virender Sehwag, the overnighters, departed all too soon on the fourth morning. It didn’t help that Sachin was out of sorts in making 55 (238 minutes, 175 deliveries, 6x4). Of course, on reaching seven, he overtook Javed Miandad to become the fifth highest rungetter in Tests.
Laxman has been around for a shade over six hours — stumps wasn’t called at the scheduled close — but will need the rather long tail’s support to get India past 430. It’s an understatement that regular captain Sourav Ganguly was missed. Instead of stepping out to Vettori and Paul Wiseman, he is watching well-wishers step in and out of his Belle Vue room.
“Yes, it’s a relief that Sourav isn’t playing... He can, after all, tear into the spinners... I understand very few have actually got him out in India,” remarked Vettori, talking exclusively.
With Sehwag exiting quickly (after adding two to his overnight 128) and Sachin unable to get his timing right, it would have been left to Sourav (a centurion in the first Test) to break Vettori’s hold on the middle order. That would, then, have allowed Laxman to play in a manner which comes naturally.
Laxman did begin with ethereal drives — the best of the match — but, with Sachin not exactly firing, decided to drop anchor. Basically, it amounted to inviting pressure. In the circumstances, perhaps, Laxman had no choice — not that he is new to this Test-saving role.
Dravid collected a wristy four off the day’s first ball (from Darryl Tuffey), but didn’t last much longer. He picked the wrong line, driving at Ian Butler, and was caught behind by Robert Hart. Sehwag went next, to a slower one from Scott Styris.
Three down for 218 and with the cherry seaming about, trouble wasn’t far off. Sachin and Laxman, though, stitched together 112 for the fourth wicket, a partnership which ended with the former falling bat-pad. Sachin misread Vettori and the Black Caps’ delight has probably been unmatched this season.
Debutant Yuvraj Singh had the chance to please a capacity ‘home’ crowd, but a six off Vettori is all that the 40,000 will remember him for. Parthiv Patel, too, didn’t make use of an excellent opportunity to atone for sins with the big gloves. As a result, Anil Kumble had to survive ten minutes in fading light.
Towards the close, Stephen Fleming had six (including Hart) close in — that’s an umbrella field usually employed by Indian captains... So, for India, is there light at the end of the tunnel' The answer should be known soon.
With nothing going India’s way from the eve of the game itself — when Sourav underwent surgery — it’s been a real test for the team’s character. Despite all that has happened over the past four days, the jury is still out.