Remember those days of great uncertainty,when the Indian batting order collapsed in a heap the moment its crutch Sachin Tendulkar snapped? It may seem like folklore,considering India now perch on the highest pedestal of the Test rankings,and several other sturdy pillars construct the teams powerful batting structure. On Friday,however,the highly-acclaimed Indian middle-order teleported all of Motera back to the nervous 1990s.
While the fans may have poured into the Sardar Patel Stadium on Friday the beginning of a festive weekend to witness Tendulkar achieve his 50th Test century,they were instead treated to a rather infamous tribute to the batsman.
From a position of absolute dominance (383/3),India imploded on either side of lunch to lose their ways at 412/8,with Tendulkars soft dismissal working as the trigger. The much criticised New Zealand bowling attack which Virender Sehwag has vocally felt pity for was made to look venomous as five wickets crumbled for just 29 runs, before a rampaging blade wielded by Harbhajan Singh put matters back into perspective.
With his highest score in Test cricket a 97-ball stroke-filled 69 Harbhajan first burst the Kiwi bubble,and then subsequently ensured that India posted an above-average total of 487 in 151.5 overs,on a wicket that has already begun to turn viciously off the rough.Brendon McCullum and Ross Taylor did mighty well to sandpaper the edges after a rough start to the New Zealand innings,as the key figures successfully remained unbeaten at the end of day’s play. With the team score on 69/2 at stumps on Day Two of the first Test,the fizz in the contest bubbled once again in Ahmedabad.
It didn’t take long in the morning for Tendulkar and VVS Laxman to realise that the pitch wasnt as deadpan as Sehwag had made it out to be,with his brutal 173 the previous day. Unbeaten on 13 overnight,Tendulkar took 21 balls to get off the mark on Friday,while Laxman too struggled with the two-paced nature of the pitch. It took some time for Tendulkar to find his 2010 form,and when he did,it was worth the wait for the fast-filling stadium.
Patels double strike
Down on one knee Tendulkar slog swept the uninspiring Jeetan Patel into the mid-wicket fence. But against the run of play,Tendulkar lobbed a gentle half-volley straight back down Patels throat for the easiest of caught-and-bowled wickets. Just as a partnership threatened to build,Tendulkar departed 60 runs short of his much awaited milestone. The glum was contagious as Suresh Raina struggled with the turn right from the onset,and gave debutant and part-time off-spinner Kane Williamson his first Test wicket. It was soon three wickets in the space of nine runs when Laxman was trapped plumb to a Patel turner for 40 at the stroke of lunch,and India had added just 63 runs to their overnight total.
With Patel and Williamson spinning it square,the question was how long would Vettori take?The New Zealand skipper answered after the break. The 31-year old had his opposite number,Dhoni,caught at short-leg for 10,before dislocating Zaheer Khans stumps for one,to leave India eight down. Vettori claimed Harbhajans wicket too with a caught behind to finish with figures of 4/118 in 54.5 overs,but not before the Indian stole the show first.
Harbhajan’s memorable moment was the stroke that ricocheted off the Motera roof,one of the three sixes he smashed. He compiled a 66-run stand for the penultimate wicket with Pragyan Ojha,whose contribution was 11 runs. With 487 on the board,the Indian innings culminated with the off-spinners dismissal.