Ahmedabad: Jesse Ryder marked his return to Test cricket with a defiant century as New Zealand staged a spirited fightback to keep themselves afloat in the first cricket Test against India here on Saturday.
The burly Ryder scored 103 before being dismissed in the last over while debutant Kane Williamson scored an unbeaten 87 as the Kiwis clawed their way into the game to reach a comfortable 331 for five at close on the third day, still trailing the hosts by 156 runs.
The visitors were struggling at 137 for four at one stage with the dismissals of the well-set Brendon McCullum (65) and Ross Taylor (56) in quick succession but Ryder and Williamson put on a record 194-run fifth wicket partnership to frustrate the Indians.
The duo eclipsed the previous record of 142 established by Ross Taylor and James Franklin in Wellington in 2009.
The 26-year-old Ryder, playing a Test match after a gap of 14 months, completed his third Test ton in the last over of the day with a fluent drive through covers but perished in the same offer with Sreesanth trapping his leg before wicket.
The New Zealanders not only managed to avoid the follow on but also put themselves on course for matching India’s first innings total on a Sardar Patel track which offered little assistance to the bowlers.
It turned out to be a disapointing day for the Indians who could manage to take just three wickets in the three sessions to allow the Kiwis to bounce back to a great extent.
Rahul Dravid grassed a simple catch at first slip early when Ryder was on 11 to compound India’s misery.
It was a valiant fightback by Ryder and Williamson who showed great temparament anc composure to keep the Indian bowlers at bay and steer their team to a relatively safer position.
With two days left in the match, the Indians will now have ensure an early end to New Zealand’s first innings if they want to push for a 1-0 lead in the three-match series.
Earlier in the morning, both the overnight batsmen McCullum (65) and Taylor (56) started confidently and completed their half-centuries before gifting their wickets to the hosts.
McCullum and Taylor negotiated the Indian pacers and spinners well for about 17 overs in the morning session before Harbhajan Singh broke the 104-run third-wicket stand.
Taylor played an uppish drive off Harbhajan towards short mid-wicket, where VVS Laxman took a simple catch.
Taylor had cut one off Harbhajan in the previous over for a boundary to notch his fifty and raise the 100-run partnership with McCullum.
Indian spinners took time to get their rhythm but then started to trouble the Kiwi batsmen. One such delivery by Pragyan Ojha dismissed McCullum, who played some aggressive shots in the opening session.
Ojha deceived McCullum’s forward defense with a spinning ball and in the process the New Zealander dragged his back-foot out of crease, an opportunity India skipper MS Dhoni encashed by taking off the bails in a flash.
Before getting out, McCullum drove Sreesanth for a four and took a single to complete his 17th Test fifty.
Ryder then raised his fifty by sweeping a Sachin Tendulkar full toss for a boundary. It was Ryder’s first half-century in almost 19 months. His last 50-plus score was a double hundred, when he scored 201 against India in March 2009 at Napier.
The 20-year-old Williamson showed a lot of heart as he batted with caution and responsibility and supported the left-handed Ryder admirably.
The Indian bowlers, who looked dominating in the morning session, struggled as both the batsmen mostly played with a straight bat and chose only loose balls to attack.
India skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni tried every tactic and even handed the ball to part-timers Virender Sehwag, Suresh Raina and even to Sachin Tendulkar but the breakthrough never came.
But Ryder and Williamson were hardly troubled by the Indian bowling attack on the slow pitch as they steadily built up their fourth-wicket partnership after coming together in the opening session.
Left-handed Ryder was lucky to be dropped off a thick outside edge by world Test catches record holder Rahul Dravid at first slip off Sreesanth, but otherwise there were hardly any signs of worries for the two batsmen.
Confronted by pace at one end and spin at the other for the most part, Ryder who was let off on 11 in a team score of 166 for four in the seventh over after lunch, and impressive 20-year-old Williamson brought New Zealand closer to avoiding the follow on.
The duo added 48 runs in 13 overs in the first hour of the second session and brought up the 200 of the innings in 79 overs by going neck-to-neck.