Auckland: India face a daunting task of scoring 407 runs to win the first cricket Test against New Zealand, who suffered a dramatic batting collapse in the second innings to be skittled out for 105 and left the topsy-turvy match wide open, here on Saturday.
Resuming at 130 for four, India were bowled for 202 to concede a first innings lead of 301 runs as overnight batsmen Rohit Sharma (72) and Ajinkya Rahane (26) failed to provide the side a good start. The hosts did not enforce a follow-on on the Indians, hoping to bury the visitors under a mountain of runs but the ploy failed as Indians bounced back brilliantly to bundle out the Kiwis for 105 runs in 41.2 overs on an eventful third day, which saw as many as 17 fall at the Eden Park.
Ross Taylor was the top scorer for the hosts with his 41-run knock, which came off 73 balls with five boundaries, including a six. Only three other Kiwi batsmen could manage a double-digit score. Pacemen Mohammed Shami (3/38) and Ishant Sharma (3/28) dismissed three batsmen each while Zaheer Khan (2/23) scalped two wickets to bring India back in the game. India were 87 for one at close, stilling needing 320 runs for a remarkable victory and with two full days left in the game, a result is almost certain.
Opener Shikhar Dhawan (49), who survived an LBW appeal of Ish Sodhi off the last ball of the day, and Cheteshwar Pujara (22) were at the crease for the visitors. Indian batsmen have looked miserable on this tour and now the young batting line up has an unenvious task of chasing a huge total of 407 runs, which if overhauled, would be second highest run chase ever in the history of Test cricket.
West Indies hold the incredible record of chasing 418 against Australia in May 2003 at St John`s. Only thrice a target in excess of 400 has been chased till date. India are second in the list with the successful chase of 406 runs against the Caribbean side but it was way back in 1976. Australia are third team to record a win while chasing a 400-plus score when they scored 404 against England in 1976.
The Indians took four wickets in the morning session and New Zealand never recovered from those early jolts. It was Shami, who triggered the collapse with wickets of both the openers. He trapped Hamish Rutherford leg before for a first-ball duck off the last ball of the very first over of the innings. And two overs later, he had Peter Fulton (5) caught driving at cover, where Jadeja took a regulation catch.
Jadeja was once again in action in the sixth over, when he took a screamer of a catch to send back in-form Kane Williamson, off Zaheer. Jadeja was not done yet as he ran out the New Zealand skipper Brendon McCullum (1) in another brilliant fielding display. McCullum was given a life in the eighth over, when Murali Vijay dropped a dolly at first slip.
New Zealand took lunch at 15 for four and thereafter Taylor and Corey Anderson looked to rebuild the innings but their efforts were thwarted by Shami, who bowled a fiery spell of six overs. And he got reward for his efforts as he bowled Anderson (2) in the sixth over after play resumed. The Black Caps were down to 25 for five with Taylor still at the crease and under tremendous pressure to put forth a proper fourth-innings? target after choosing not to follow on.
BJ Watling gave him support as the two players added 38 runs for the sixth wicket. But just when they were beginning to look comfortable, Taylor cut one from Zaheer to be caught at gully by Ajinkya Rahane. It was an intense session with runs coming in a trickle and the batsmen looking to survive. The overs went past quickly as Ishant Sharma and Ravindra Jadeja (1/10) came on for a bit. But with the break looming, skipper MS Dhoni once again employed Shami in hope of another wicket.
But it was Jadeja who delivered at the other end, sending back Tim Southee (14) even as the tailender was looking to play some attacking shots. Watling was unbeaten on 11 runs (70 balls) as the Kiwis stared at a shock collapse.
Earlier, after bad light had stopped play early on day two, the match began 30 minutes earlier this morning. Rohit Sharma (72) and Ajinkya Rahane (26) were looking to spend more time at the crease after stopping the collapse on the previous evening.
But New Zealand bowled to a plan, pitching the ball up regularly to the two batsmen, who were guilty of looking for drives without settling in. As a result, in the sixth over of the morning, Rahane edged to first slip, off Tim Southee and the downfall began. In the next over, Rohit too played a poor shot, attempting a drive, and was bowled by Trent Boult. He top-scored with 72 runs, facing 120 balls, with eight fours and one six, but that wasn?t enough on this day.
Skipper MS Dhoni (10) found the going tough, and edged one through the slips with the fielders not moving. He was on 4 at that time, but failed to capitalise, edging once again shortly afterwards, off Neil Wagner, and this time keeper BJ Watling made no mistake. Wagner then cleaned up the rest of the batting line-up, as the Indian tail showcased a shocking lack of application to stay at the wicket and spend some time, to even try to get close to the follow-on mark.
Zaheer Khan (14) threw his bat around before edging behind, while Ishant Sharma (0) followed the same approach, though failed to add any runs. Mohammad Shami (2) was last man out, as Ravindra Jadeja (30 runs, 44 balls, 2 fours, 1 six) was left unbeaten at the other end. For New Zealand, Wagner was the most successful bowler, finishing with 4-64 from 11 overs. He found ample support coming in from Boult (3-38) and Southee (3-38).