Chayan Rastogi/Zeecric Bureau
Hyderabad: Yet again Harbhajan Singh became India’s unlikely hero with the bat to guide home side from mini collapse to the position of domination with 86-run lead on the third day of second Test here at the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium.
Losing four wickets for 44 runs in post-tea session, India looked like losing all advantage to spirited New Zealand bowling, but Harbhajan with luck-God on his side destroyed Kiwi plans with frenetic hitting to end third day at 436 for the loss of 9 wickets.
Bhajji remained unbeaten on 85 of 82 balls and plundered five sixes and seven boundaries to help India take, what can be called a decisive 86-run lead, when India bats fourth to chase any target on last day.
Giving Harbhajan a fitting support from the other hand, Sreesanth too battled out 47 deliveries to make 14 runs, which brought up an unbeaten 10th wicket partnership of 69 runs.
Harbhajan came into bat after India suffered vital double blow just after tea-break when New Zealand scalped VVS Laxman and MS Dhoni in quick succession to push India on backfoot.
Laxman, who is playing his first Test at Hyderabad, weaved significant partnerships- first with Rahul Dravid and then Suresh Raina- to lead India’s slow progress but quick wickets by first Martin and then Vettori just after tea brought New Zealand back into the match.
Chris Martin trapped Test specialist Laxman (74) dead in front of wickets after the veteran scored his 48th Test fifty in front of his home crowd to take India striking close to New Zealand’s first innings total.
After Laxman’s departure, Dhoni too got dismissed cheaply on poor stroke, as he chipped Vettori to short cover where Brendon McCullulam took an easy catch.
Earlier, Tim Southee gave New Zealand something to smile about after lunch as he caught Rahul Dravid straight in front of wickets after a slow but steady 75-run partnership with Laxman for the fourth wicket.
Dravid battled for 144 balls for his 45 runs and scored five boundaries during his stay at the crease.
Suresh Raina came to bat after Dravid’s dismissal and cracked three boundaries to lift the run-rate of Indian innings but perished playing an expensive lofted stroke on Daniel Vettori to leave India at 311/5.
Raina, batting at 20, came down the track to lift Vettori but misread ball’s flight and spooned a high catch at midwicket where Martin Guptill made no mistake.
New Zealand started third day proceedings with aggressive intent and attacking field-placement to take an early edge on Sunday morning.
Black Caps striked early in the fifth over of the morning when captain Daniel Vettori dashed million Indian hopes of seeing Tendulkar scoring 50th ton, caught in slips by Ross Taylor on just 13.
Tendulkar, who was not looking fluent in his limited stay at the crease, escaped a close run-out chance on the first ball of the day but couldn’t carry his fortune for long as he edged Vettori’s ball while coming down the track and playing an aggressive stroke.
Coming on to crease after Tendulkar’s departure, Laxman eased some early nerves with two crisp boundaries of Chris Martin in an over and looked good to form a long partnership with Dravid.
India on Sunday started their innings from 178/2 after openers Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir shared a solid first-wicket partnership of 160 runs.