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18 Mar 2009 10:35
A defiant captain’s century by Daniel Vettori and a maiden ton for Jesse Ryder rescued New Zealand on the opening day of the first Test here on Wednesday but India finished on top.
The home side were dismissed for 279 on a batsman-friendly wicket and at stumps the tourists had reached 29 without loss off seven overs with the explosive Virender Sehwag not out 22 and fellow opener Gautam Gambhir on six.
Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni won the toss and elected to bowl, gambling on his bowlers capitalising on the overcast conditions and a green-tinged wicket.
His choice paid off, with New Zealand in dire straits at 60 for six just before lunch when Vettori joined Ryder in the middle to begin the fightback.
The pair produced a record-breaking 186-run partnership to take the score to 246, and New Zealand added just 33 more runs before they were all out.
The skipper’s 118 was his third century in 90 Tests, while Ryder’s 102 was his maiden ton in his seventh Test.
But that partnership aside, the day belonged to India and Vettori was the first to admit it.
“Our first thoughts were to get through to 150. It would give us something to play with.
Fortunately, Jesse and I batted for a long time and put a competitive score on the board but certainly below par,” he said.
“We created momentum through our partnership, but if you erase that and look at the scores you’d say India’s on top.”
At times the match was a battle of wits between the captains, with Vettori looking for runs and forcing Dhoni into frequent field adjustments.
Ryder, at the other end, showed his versatility, shelving his big-hitting one-day role to play a watchful knock.
Between them they blocked out the spin of Harbhajan Singh at one end while picking off the quicks at the other as the afternoon sun baked the wicket, the ball aged, and conditions became more batsman-friendly.
Vettori brought up the New Zealand 100, hooking Zaheer Khan for six, and in the first hour after tea the home side raced along at more than five an over with the skipper belting Sehwag over the ropes.
Vettori’s immense effort came to an end after 197 minutes at the crease when Dhoni moved smartly to take an inside edge off Munaf Patel.
The 164-ball innings produced two sixes and 14 fours, with his century arriving off a single when he top-edged Harbhajan to fine leg.
He survived two close calls, diving to make his ground when sent back by Ryder two balls before tea and then on 77 he was dropped by Rahul Dravid off Harbhajan.
Vettori’s dismissal brought to an end the record seventh-wicket partnership in New Zealand-India Tests and the Indian bowlers were quickly back on top.
Kyle Mills was yorked by Patel first ball, while Iain O’Brien avoided the hat-trick and reached eight before he was stumped by Dhoni off Harbhajan.
His departure, with New Zealand 275-9 and Ryder on 98, brought out Chris Martin, who is recognised as one of the worst Test batsmen in the world.
The look of consternation on Ryder’s face was evident as Martin prodded at the five remaining balls in Harbhajan’s over.
Ryder then made sure of his century, hitting Ishant Sharma to the boundary and was out caught by VVS Laxman off the next ball.
It was an innings delivered with class and determination, something that was missing from the relatively inexperienced top order, who appeared to lack the resolve to bide their time in the middle.
Zaheer Khan did the early damage, removing Martin Guptill (14) and Daniel Flynn (0) in the space of three balls.
Munaf Patel claimed the sixth wicket when he sent Brendon McCullum back to the pavilion for three shortly before lunch.
In contrast, Indian attacked from the start of their innings, with Sehwag continuing the form which saw him star in the one-day series, in which India beat New Zealand 3-1.
Sehwag hit five boundaries in his unbeaten 22, while New Zealand new ball bowler Mills conceded 18 runs off his two overs.—Sapa-AFP
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