Tuesday, November 23, 2010

India nails New Zealand in Nagpur

There was one definitive vignette on Tuesday that encapsulated the spirit of a rejuvenated Indian side in the third Test. Jesse Ryder, twice in succession, pounded Harbhajan Singh on the off-side and on both occasions, Suresh Raina produced stunning stops at extra-cover.

And when Raina sent down his occasional off-spin in the next over, an increasingly frustrated Ryder lashed out to be held at mid-off. This, indeed, was a wonderful example of a team building stress.

Raina's batting form has dipped, his Test place is on the line and skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni believes the cricketer needs a short break from international cricket. Yet, the moment highlighted commitment in a team sport. It was about not allowing one's shoulder to drop irrespective of personal fortunes, about everybody chipping in. Team India bristled with aggression and intent.

A buzzing Indian attack made short work of New Zealand at the VCA Stadium here on the fourth day to win the contest by a whopping innings and 198 runs. Dhoni's men clinched the three-Test series 1-0. Rahul Dravid's monumental 191 won him the man of the match award. And Harbhajan Singh was adjudged player of the series for his all-round display of 315 runs at 105.00 and 10 wickets at 42.00.

New Zealand crumbled to be dismissed for 175 in its second innings shortly after lunch. The surface provided encouragement to the spinners but was not a stark turner by any means. There was spin and bounce for both Harbhajan and Pragyan Ojha. To their credit, both spinners bowled in the right areas, varied their trajectory and harnessed the angles capably. Raina chipped in with useful wickets.

The lanky Ishant Sharma, the home side's major gain from the Test, operated at a lively pace, got his deliveries to straighten in the corridor and struck with telling off-cutters. Once again, he blew away the tail. Ishant added another dimension to the attack.

Although the verdicts would not have altered the eventual outcome - the Kiwis were outplayed - the visitors were at the receiving end of a couple of rough umpiring decisions. The calls for UDRS are bound to increase. The system - both sides are allowed two unsuccessful referrals in every innings - can remove blatant errors. However, the traditionalists will argue that the UDRS takes the human element away from the game.

New Zealand would be disappointed with its inept display here after offering stirring resistance in the first two Tests. The batting lacked belief when the ball spun and close-in fielders breathed down on the batsman.

Things happened quickly in the morning. By ending the inning late on day three, the host got the timing of its declaration right. This meant the ball would still be hard when play began on the fourth day. Sreesanth moved the ball away consistently from the right-hander. Ojha was spot-on from the other end; Dhoni relied on pace-spin combinations.

Ojha struck with a short-of-a-good length delivery that held its line. The in-form Brendon McCullum committed a fatal error in playing across. New Zealand slid into further trouble when umpire Simon Taufel made a dreadful mistake by adjudging Martin Guptill leg-before to left-armer Ojha. Replays revealed the ball clearly pitched outside leg stump.

And when Ross Taylor was plumb in front after missing a sweep off Ojha, he was ruled not out by Taufel. India, though, continued to pick wickets in a dramatic session. Unable to cope with a sharp off-spinner from Harbhajan, nightwatchman Gareth Hopkins was held bat-pad by a diving Gautam Gambhir at short-leg.

Already in a hole, the Kiwis were undone by another umpiring blunder. Harbhajan, getting his off-spinners to fizz off the surface, turned one into Taylor and the ball bounced off the pad - the bat was nowhere near to substitute Cheteshwar Pujara at short-leg.

Harbhajan's appeal was mild, almost an afterthought. To his horror, Taylor saw umpire Nigel Llong's finger go up. Unable to build partnerships, the Kiwis were losing ground rapidly. Kane Williamson was done in by an off-cutter that kept a shade low from Ishant. Soon, the left-handed Ryder departed.

Skipper Daniel Vettori, who miscalculated by playing back, was prised out by a delivery that did not spin from Raina. Tim Southee struck some lusty blows but the Indians were celebrating before long.


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