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Gambhir hits another hundred

S. Ram Mahesh

India’s historic series win is now only a matter of time

— PHOTO: AP

IN SUBLIME FORM: Gautam Gambhir’s magnificent 167 closed the door on New Zealand’s faint hopes of squaring the series.

WELLINGTON: Gautam Gambhir, on the third day of the third Test here at the Basin Reserve, continued to mine his rich run-scoring seam, which — including Sunday’s 167 — has yielded five Test centuries in six months and 13 innings.

The left-handed opener’s controlled knock, which featured vibrant strokeplay, safe defence, and industrious working of the ones and twos, helped India set an elaborate table. By stumps on the third day (hastened by bad light), India had made 349 for five in the second innings for a gargantuan overall lead of 531. Already ahead 1-0, a thoroughly deserved and historic series win in New Zealand is now only a matter of time.

A significant member

Gambhir did everything asked of him on a day which might have turned moderately tricky — and in so doing proved again that he isn’t merely a bit-part player in a side of batting luminaries, but a significant member.

He has shown he can dictate terms to quality bowlers of both pace and spin; he has shown he has the defensive technique and the concentration needed to bat time in a rescue act; on Sunday he showed he can further a game that needs advancing, securely, calmly, firmly.

The day began overcast, with the Indian second innings in Gambhir and Rahul Dravid’s care. India resumed on 51 for one, 233 ahead, but mindful that an ambush could still make a contest of the third Test.

Undeniable grace

Dravid, who survived a couple of anxious moments, didn’t make a run in the first half-hour. Gambhir, at the other end, began with a beautiful straight drive, hit on the up off Tim Southee, everything about it utterly measured.

The left-hander is sometimes accused of unsightly strokeplay, but he is a difficult batsman to pigeon-hole in terms of style, for although not given to languid ball-striking, the balance and poise during a lot of his driving, and his working to leg, contain undeniable grace.

Dravid broke free by cutting and pulling Southee, settling into a nice batting rhythm. The conditions, in any case, weren’t unduly difficult: a stiff, whippy wind that wailed around the old grandstand like a miserable banshee might have made it difficult to control the bat-swing and added and detracted from the bowlers speeds further hindering timing, but it didn’t bring much swing. The strip had bounce, but although Chris Martin and Iain O’Brien attempted the odd short-pitched attack, it had little success.

By lunch, India led by 352, Gambhir and Dravid still together. New Zealand had its best moments in the hour after lunch.

Fine anticipation

First, Brendon McCullum pulled off a wonderful bit of opportunistic wicket-keeping. Dravid (60) had paddled Daniel Vettori fine, and McCullum had hurried across, but the moment passed without incident. Dravid attempted the stroke again off a ball on middle. This time McCullum was across in a flash, his anticipation allowing him to advance so far that he could actually see the ball off the bat from behind the batsman. McCullum’s left foot was outside the cut strip when he completed the catch, the ball lodging between his glove and the side of his body.

Sachin Tendulkar, after hitting Vettori for a glorious six over long-off, got one that dipped and turned to evade the bat’s middle. Ross Taylor dived low at first slip to take the ball millimetres from the turf. But V.V.S. Laxman joined Gambhir, as the pair built India’s second substantial partnership (106) after Gambhir and Dravid had added 170.

Gambhir treated O’Brien with contempt, leaping to upper-cut him for six, driving and cutting him either side of point; but most destroying to the bowler’s psyche was how he played the angle, moving across the stumps to take balls from the off-stump and send them past square leg for two.

Gambhir brought up his century by dancing down the track, simultaneously withdrawing from the line to make room, and slicing though cover-point for four. But the pursuit of the double century fell 33 short: in playing O’Brien across the line, he missed the (second new) ball to be found in front of his stumps.

O’Brien also pierced a Laxman off-drive with a superb break-back, ending another fine half-century (61) from the right-hander. Yuvraj Singh and M.S. Dhoni managed five fours between them before taking the umpires’ offer of light in the gathering gloom.

SCOREBOARD

India — 1st innings: 379.

New Zealand —1st innings: 197.

India — 2nd innings: G. Gambhir lbw b O’Brien 167 (257b, 16x4, 2x6); V. Sehwag c Taylor b Martin 12 (7b, 3x4); R. Dravid c McCullum b Vettori 60 (145b, 10x4); S. Tendulkar c Taylor b Vettori 9 (20b, 1x6); V.V.S. Laxman b O’Brien 61 (109b, 9x4); Yuvraj (batting) 15 (27b, 2x4); M.S. Dhoni (batting) 16 (26b, 3x4); Extras (lb-5, nb-4) 9; Total (for five wkts. in 97.5 overs) 349.

Fall of wickets: 1-14 (Sehwag), 2-184 (Dravid), 3-208 (Tendulkar), 4-314 (Gambhir), 5-319 (Laxman).

New Zealand bowling: Southee 12-2-58-0, Martin 15.5-5-50-1, O’Brien 22-6-77-2, Franklin 13-3-50-0, Ryder 6-1-21-0, Vettori 29-4-88-2.

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