Wellington: Ajinkya Rahane cracked his maiden ton as India dished out a dominant batting display to take a massive 246-run lead and put themselves in the drivers` seat over New Zealand on the second and final cricket Test here on Saturday.
Rahane, playing in his fifth Test, struck a classy 118 which he made from 158 deliveries with the help of 17 fours and a six as India scored 438 all out on the second day in reply to New Zealand`s 192 on a Basin Reserve pitch which has considerably eased out in favour of batsmen.
Pacer Zaheer Khan then dismissed opener Peter Fulton for just one as New Zealand ended the day on 24 for one, still trailing by 222 runs with nine second innings wickets in hand. The other opener Hamish Rutherford and in-form Kane Williamson were at the crease on 18 and four respectively at the draw of stumps.
Rahane bettered his previous highest score of 96, made in Durban against South Africa in December last. He put on a 120-run seventh wicket stand with skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni (68 off 86 balls) as India pressed their advantage in the post-tea session with some aggressive batting.
Opener Shikhar Dhawan (98) was unlucky to miss out on a century by just two runs. Dhawan, who laid the foundation of India`s best batting show of the Test series, faced 127 balls and struck 14 fours and a six. India also scored at a brisk pace today, adding 338 runs from 74.4 overs they faced. They scored at 4.26 runs per over overall. For New Zealand, Tim Southee (3/93), Trent Boult (3/99), Neil Wagner (3/106) and James Neesham (1/62) shared the spoils among them. Corey Anderson (0/66) went wicket-less. With three full days left, India, who lost the first Test in Auckland by 40 runs, would look to win the game and level the two-match series.
Starting off at 301/6 post-tea, Rahane and Dhoni scored runs at a quick clip, especially the latter. The Indian captain brought up his 29th Test fifty off 64 balls with six fours and one six, in the 86th over. Two overs later, they brought up their 100-run partnership. Just as it was looking too easy for the Indian batsmen, Dhoni was strangled down the leg-side and caught by keeper BJ Watling off Boult in the 93rd over.
Ravindra Jadeja (26 off 16 balls) came to the crease and started hitting out, living by the sword and dying by it, in the 97th over. He added 37 runs with Rahane who was now beginning to run out of partners. But Zaheer hung around long enough for Rahane to complete his richly deserved maiden hundred, coming off 149 balls, with 15 fours. After becoming the 76th Indian batsman to score a Test century, he changed gears to add 38 quick runs with Zaheer, who scored 22 runs of 19 balls with the help of four fours.
At the other end, Rahane`s superb innings was brought to an end by an equally stupendous one-handed catch in the deep by Boult in the 102nd over. An over later, India were bowled out, with Zaheer edging behind.
Earlier, Rahane had helped India reached 301/6 at tea. Along with Virat Kohli, he looked to bat for time and get a substantial lead for the team. They batted with confidence and picked their areas to score. While the former looked to attack, the latter played a solid game, and neither bothered about the run-rate. The duo brought up their 50-run partnership in the 62nd over and yet did not change gears, looking set for a longer innings together. But then, against the run of play, Neil Wagner got Kohli driving and caught at short cover, much to the dismay of the batsman. Kohli made 38 runs off 93 balls.
Dhoni`s entry to the crease was an important passage of play for India thereafter, because any more wickets would have meant the tail being exposed to the new ball. He played an attacking game first up and then settled down to build a partnership with Rahane.
Rahane brought up his half-century off 93 balls with seven fours, and his 50-run partnership with Dhoni for the seventh wicket in the 78th over.
The new ball was taken in 81st over, immediately after it became due, but the two set batsmen continued to deny New Zealand, bringing up the 300 for India at the stroke of tea. In the morning session, Dhawan missed out on a second consecutive Test ton as India were placed at 201/5 at lunch. Dhawan and Ishant Sharma started the day on 71 and three respectively at the overnight score of 100/2, looking to soften up the ball which was still relatively new with only 28 overs old. This was the role for the latter especially, who now did not have to protect the incoming batsmen. Ishant continued to face a hostile barrage from the Kiwi bowlers who faltered in not bowling full to him, and trying to bounce him out. This allowed him to open up a bit as he spent more time at the wicket.
Ishant struck three valiant fours and scored 26 runs (off 50 balls) putting on 52 runs with Dhawan for the third wicket. He was out in the 37th over, edging Boult behind and was caught handsomely by keeper BJ Watling. Dhawan had started watchfully but even he started stroking fluently, with the 150-mark coming up for India in the 42nd over. He was joined in the middle by Kohli after Ishant`s dismissal and this small passage of play saw some funny cricket by the two batsmen, as they made a variety of mistakes, ranging from chasing wide deliveries to a couple of mix-ups in between the wickets.
It resulted in a wicket then, and a heartbreak for Dhawan, who fell two runs short of a second consecutive Test hundred. He went for a drive against a length delivery bowled by Southee and was caught behind, again by the keeper. He hit 14 fours and one six. Three runs later, it became a wobbly situation for India as Rohit Sharma (0) was once again dismissed off a loose shot. He tried to drive a really wide delivery, without any particular feet movement, and managed to play onto his stumps, giving debutant Jimmy Neesham his first Test wicket.
The double blow meant New Zealand could still come back into the game, especially when the ball was changed soon afterwards. But, Kohli and Rahane grafted well enough to avoid any further damage until the session break. Shortly before the lunch interval, in the 53rd over, India went past the New Zealand total, and then the 200-mark came up at the stroke of lunch.