NAPIER, New Zealand, (Reuters) – Gautam Gambhir ground his way to his fifth test century as India edged closer to saving the second test against New Zealand by the close of play on the fourth day yesterday.
The tourists, who won the first match of the three-test series in Hamilton by 10 wickets, reached 252 for two at stumps, 62 runs behind New Zealand’s 619 for nine declared after being dismissed for 305 in their first innings and forced to follow on.
Gambhir was on 102, while Sachin Tendulkar was on 58 — his 52nd test half century — and with a day still to play he is well placed to convert that into his 43rd test century on the benign McLean Park wicket today.
“It’s hard to see any wear or tear on it (the pitch),” New Zealand coach Andy Moles told reporters.
“You’re looking for mistakes from the batters rather than the ball misbehaving … and as we’ve seen in the first innings there’s a bit of tail in this Indian team.
“They’ve got a magnificent front five or six but as we’ve seen if we bowl well and things go our way we can get quick wickets.”
Gambhir, who was on 14 when play began yesterday, was watchful all day with few false strokes and only one nervous moment when a James Franklin outswinger squared him up while he was on 84.
Initial reactions from the New Zealand fielders were that wicketkeeper Brendon McCullum had dropped a sharp chance, though television replays showed Gambhir had been comprehensively beaten and the ball had brushed his back leg.
The 27-year-old, who had spent almost an hour stuck on 83 after tea finally brought up his milestone with an aggressive lofted shot over wide mid-on for his 14th boundary. He had taken 265 balls to achieve the mark.
Rahul Dravid (62) was the only wicket to fall yesterday after he had shared in a four-hour, 133-run partnership with Gambhir,though his dismissal was controversial.
Dravid was given out caught in close by Jamie How off Daniel Vettori by umpire Ian Orchard, but the batsman was visibly upset with the decision and television replays showed the ball had ballooned off his front pad without touching his bat or gloves.
“It was a tough grinding day for us,” said Dravid.
“We’ve not been put in this position a lot over the last year. We found ourselves with our backs to the wall yesterday and we needed some character, we needed some fight and we showed that.
“We could have rolled over but we’ve fought back hard.”