India close in on New Zealand series win

India were on the brink of their first series win in New Zealand since 1968 after the hosts lost four second-innings wickets still 450 runs short of victory in the third Test here on Monday.

New Zealand were struggling at 167 for four when bad light stopped play almost an hour early on the fourth day, after being set a massive target of 617 to win the final Test.

India had a 1-0 lead coming into the Test at the Basin Reserve and a draw would be enough to clinch their first series win in New Zealand for more than four decades.

Victory for New Zealand is all but out of reach, with the highest fourth innings winning total in Test cricket history being 418 scored by the West Indies against Australia in 2003.

New Zealand’s remaining batsmen face the imposing task of trying to survive the final day, with forecast rain their best chance of salvaging a draw.

After the New Zealand second innings threatened to fall apart in the afternoon, Ross Taylor offered some strong resistance, continuing to play his shots on the way to an unbeaten on 69 at stumps.

Allrounder James Franklin ended not out on 26 as the pair put on 83 runs for the fifth wicket to avoid an embarrassing rout after New Zealand slumped to 84 for four.

The destroyers of New Zealand’s first innings, Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh, cut a swathe through New Zealand’s top order in the early afternoon, taking two for 50 and two for 35 respectively.

Earlier on Monday, India declared at 434 for seven in its second innings to ensure a massive lead.

New Zealand have had their backs against the wall since Saturday, when they were dismissed cheaply for 197 in reply to India’s first innings total of 379.

India’s second innings was built on the bedrock of a magnificent 167 by opener Gautam Gambhir, who batted for nearly six hours on Saturday and Sunday for his second century of the series.

India resumed at 349 for five on Monday and added another 85 runs, with captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni ending unbeaten on 56 before he declared 75 minutes into the morning session.

Yuvraj Singh also helped pile on the misery for New Zealand, scoring a quick 40, including three consecutive fours and a six off one Iain O’Brien over.

Chris Martin had the best return for the New Zealand bowlers, finishing with three for 70 from 22 overs.

In reply, New Zealand lost their first wicket before lunch with opener Tim McIntosh becoming pace bowler Khan’s sixth victim for the match.

McIntosh also became Rahul Dravid’s world record 182nd catching victim after the batsman edged Khan into to the slips in the 11th over.

The veteran 36-year-old Dravid eclipsed the record for Test catches by a fielder, previously held by Australia’s Mark Waugh.

Daniel Flynn also fell to Khan in the eighth over after lunch, getting an inside edge on a ball seaming into him, which then cannoned into his pad and on to the stumps.

Off-spinner Harbhajan had New Zealand in strife right through much of his unbroken spell between lunch and tea and Taylor—having scored just nine runs—survived an appeal for caught at short leg after initially being given out by umpire Simon Taufel.

Taufel had second thoughts, and referred the decision to the television umpire who ruled the ball hit the ground as it was scooped up by Gambhir.

Harbhajan soon struck back in the 31st over, trapping opener Martin Guptill lbw for 49 and getting a second wicket just two balls later.

Jesse Ryder suffered his second failure of the match—following a century in the first Test and a double hundred in the second—edging the offspinner to Dravid for a duck. - AFP


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