Tendulkar’s fifty keeps India on top

(Cricinfo)- The expected run barrage never came, with Virender Sehwag run out early in the day, but half-centuries from Gautam Gambhir and Rahul Dravid and an unbeaten 70 from Sachin Tendulkar allowed India to establish a measure of control at Seddon Park.

New Zealand were disciplined with the ball and sprightly in the field, but despite a lot of moisture in the air after overnight rain, there was no real menace from the bowlers. By the time the players went off for bad light, India were just a run behind, though there would have been some disappointment at the fact that well-set batsmen didn’t go on to make bigger scores.

There was still Tendulkar though. Having taken 11 balls to get off the mark, he eased himself into rhythm slowly, but there were some sparkling strokes in the final session. There were cover-drives off front and back foot, precise cuts and deft nudges off the pads.

His best shot though was a gorgeous on-drive off Chris Martin, a stroke he followed up with an impudent ramp over slips off Iain O’Brien. New Zealand were left to reflect on a missed chance when Tendulkar had made just 13 and miscued a pull off Daniel Vettori just beyond Daniel Flynn at midwicket.

That late flourish enlivened proceedings after New Zealand had established something of a tourniquet after tea. With Vettori accurate and Jesse Ryder wheeling away for five maidens with his medium pace, Tendulkar and VVS Laxman were becalmed.

The scoring rate for the partnership was two an over, and there were some streaky strokes, inside egdes and a Laxman pull that just evaded O’Brien at deep square leg. When the new ball was taken, India were still 41 behind and New Zealand struck immediately, with Martin finding the edge to first slip.

Yuvraj Singh survived a few alarms, playing one superb cover-drive off the disappointing Kyle Mills, and with Tendulkar raising the tempo, the new ball didn’t do the damage that New Zealand would have wished for. It had been much the same story in the morning after Sehwag’s departure, though the dismissals of Gambhir and Dravid after lunch did redress the balance somewhat.

Gambhir took his mind off the fiasco with a neat clip through midwicket off Mills as New Zealand sought to keep the runs down and build up some pressure. It didn’t happen. Dravid has been a hesitant starter in recent times, but a glance for four off Martin and a lovely cut off Mills allowed him to play himself in.

The two rotated the strike and though there were passages of relative quiet, the loose ball was invariably put away. That was especially true right after lunch, with Vettori and Martin taken for several boundaries. But Martin struck just when things were looking bleak, coming round the wicket to induce the edge through to Brendon McCullum. Gambhir had made 72 from 135 balls.

Dravid defended as methodically as ever, but it wasn’t all dour stuff. He cut the ball beautifully and the run-rate didn’t suffer after Gambhir’s departure. Another stroke past point off Mills took him to a half-century from 108 balls and when he followed it with a lovely cover-drive off O’Brien, things were looking ominous. But O’Brien had the final say, getting one to nip back a shade off the seam and hit the top of off stump.

With Tendulkar and Laxman in obdurate mood though, the bowlers couldn’t press on. But by keeping things quiet, they’ve given themselves a glimmer of a chance, Tendulkar notwithstanding.

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