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 in Napier on Sunday.
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 not out on 102, while Sachin Tendulkar was unbeaten 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 on Monday.
Gambhir, who was on 14 when play began on Sunday, 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 on Sunday 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.
Gambhir and Dravid had shown remarkable gumption and gusto in steering India out of the woods with a steadfast 133-run partnership.
More than the runs they garnered for the second wicket, Gambhir and Dravid had done a great job for India, who were forced to follow-on, by consuming four crucial hours which could possibly deprive New Zealand a series-levelling win.
Earlier, resuming at their overnight score of 47 for one, India started off cautiously before blossoming in the latter part of the morning session.
The two batsmen seemed content on defence as they added 72 in 33 overs (122 minutes) in the first session.
Chasing New Zealand’s 619 for nine declared, India had collapsed for 305 in the first innings and were asked to follow-on by the host team which is seeking to draw level in the three-match series.
India had won the first Test at Hamilton by ten wickets.
Gambhir was a picture of confidence. The diminutive left hander showed great patience in the morning before opening up in the latter part of the session. He moved his feet to meet Daniel Vettori and the probing Jeetan Patel upfront, hitting the spinners over the top without much ado.
The 27-year-old notched his eleventh Test half-century minutes before lunch. He also took his career tally past 2000 Test runs and now boasts of an awe-inspiring average of over 50 in 24 Tests.
Dravid was at his stoic best, watchful and circumspect. There was very little Kiwi skipper Vettori could do as ‘The Wall’, which had been impregnated by Jesse Ryder on Saturday in a rare moment of imprudence.
Dravid did have moments of uncertainty against Patel, when the offie spun the ball past the willow, close to the off stump. But the 36-year-old asserted himself by hoisting Patel over the ropes at long on for a huge six.