Wellington: India`s listless bowlers allowed New Zealand off the hook as the home team rode on skipper Brendon McCullum`s monumental double century to continue their remarkable fightback and take a commanding lead on the fourth and penultimate day of the second cricket Test here on Monday.
McCullum remained unbeaten on 281 runs and shared a world record partnership of 352 runs for the sixth wicket with BJ Watling (124), helping their side reach a formidable 571/6 at stumps and take the game away from India at the Basin Reserve.
India, who had New Zealand in a spot of bother at 94 for five in their second innings yesterday, are now facing the prospect of even losing the match with the hosts swelling their lead to 325 runs. The duo defied the visitors for 123 overs and turned around a 246-run deficit into a massive lead with one day left in the match.
McCullum was still batting after nearly six sessions at the crease, facing 525 balls and hitting 28 fours and 4 sixes. At the other end, James Neesham brought up his maiden Test fifty and was unbeaten on 67 off 93 balls, with 9 fours.
For India, Zaheer Khan (3-129), Mohammad Shami (2-136) and Ishant Sharma (0-124) toiled hard on an unresponsive pitch, particularly with the third new ball. Ravindra Jadeja (1-108) was rendered ineffective as well. Part-timers Rohit Sharma (0-40) and Virat Kohli (0-13) were given a go to try something different, while skipper MS Dhoni (0-5) also bowled after the tea-break.
Starting at 440/5 after tea, the set batsmen had another string of batting records coming their way, with the pitch playing perfect foil to them. As Dhoni bowled his gentle medium-pace first up, McCullum and Watling crossed the 350-mark for their partnership in the 159th over. An over later, they brought up the highest ever sixth-wicket partnership in Test cricket breaking the 351-mark by Mahela and Prasanna Jayawardene, also set against India at Ahmedabad in 2009. Their lead also swelled to 200 in the meantime.
The third new ball was taken immediately and the Indian pacers put in a lot of effort to change the direction of the match. Mohammad Shami got the breakthrough finally, in the 161st over, trapping Watling lbw. He faced 367 balls in his innings, hitting 13 fours. Meanwhile, McCullum carried on and crossed the 250-run mark, starting to climb the ladder for highest individual score for a New Zealand batsman. At the other end, Neesham too joined in the fun and struck some lusty blows, matching his partner for strokes. They continued to punish the hapless bowling on a flat track and in the final session put on 125 runs for the seventh wicket, as the hosts crossed the 550-run mark.
McCullum heaped misery on India, finishing as the second-highest run-scorer for New Zealand, behind Martin Crowe`s 299 scored against Sri Lanka at the same ground in 1991. On the final day, he will attempt to become the first Kiwi batsman to get a Test triple hundred. Earlier in the post-lunch session, McCullum and Watling continued their brilliant domination of this Indian attack on a pitch that completely changed character to become a batting beauty. They brought up the 350-mark for New Zealand in the 128th over, first one after the break, and then carried on to reach personal milestones.
First up they broke the highest partnership record for New Zealand for any wicket against India, passing the 271 runs scored by Ross Taylor and Jesse Ryder in Napier in 2009. Then in the 138th over, Watling brought up his 3rd Test century in 420 minutes, facing 297 balls and hitting 12 fours. Unlike his captain who was dropped twice, the keeper-batsman never even gave a sniff to the Indian bowlers. Their 300-run partnership came in the 142nd over, and then two overs later, McCullum became the first New Zealand batsman to hit back-to-back double hundreds.
It was his third double hundred, all three having come against India, and he is only the second New Zealand batsman after Stephen Fleming to score three double-hundreds. Before going to tea, they crossed the 339-run sixth wicket stand between McCullum and Martin Guptill against Bangladesh in 2010 and became the third-highest-ever partnership for New Zealand in Test cricket. In the morning session, starting at their overnight score of 252/5, McCullum and Watling needed a double approach on this fourth day`s play.
If it was all about survival on day three, now they also needed to score runs and put pressure on India. And they did not get bogged down, as shots started flowing once they both got a feel of the conditions early on. For the record, the golden-brown pitch now looked completely different from the lush-green wicket that it was on day one. Their progress was very heartening for the hosts` camp, with the scoring rate reaching 4.7 over in the first ten, and in the first hour of play, 56 runs came in the 13 overs bowled.
The 200-run partnership between the two batsmen came up in the 110th over of the innings. As if sensing the high scoring rate, Jadeja was introduced in the 115th over and was given an attacking field with three close-in fielders. But it didn`t have any effect on the two settled batsmen who marched along without fuss. In the next over, McCullum crossed the 150-run mark for the second time in this series, notching up his best series aggregate and going past his previous best of 370 runs, also scored against India in 2010.
He faced 303 balls and batted for a humongous 432 minutes for this, hitting 18 fours and 1 six. After being put down twice yesterday, if at all he gave a chance, it was in the 122nd over bowled by Zaheer, when he edged one past the slip cordon wherein Shikhar Dhawan was standing at third slip. Watling though was solid as ever at the other end, and the 250-run partnership came up in the 126th over, just before the break.
On day one, Ishant Sharma`s best Test figures of 6-51 bowled New Zealand out for a paltry 192 runs. Then, on day two, Ajinkya Rahane (118) strucks his maiden Test hundred to take India to 438 in their first innings, a lead of 246 runs. On day three, needing 247 runs to make India bat again, New Zealand were reeling at 94/5 before a 158-run partnership between McCullum and Watling rescued them.