Nagpur: India's famed top oder batsmen capitalised on Virender Sehwag's flourishing start as the hosts took firm control of the the third and final cricket Test against New Zealand with a solid batting display here today.
After dismissing the Kiwis for 193 in the first innings, the Indians reached a comfortable 292 for two at close on the second day, taking a 99-run first innings lead at the VCA stadium.
Virender Sehwag (74) provided a flying start along with Gautam Gambhir (78) while Rahul Dravid (69 batting) and Sachin Tendulkar (57 batting) consolidated the position for the hosts with an unbroken 100-run partnership for the third wicket.
Monday can turn out to be an eventful day as Tendulkar, was a picture of concentration. He looks determined not throw it away as he requires another 43 runs to complete the historic milestone of 50 centuries in Test cricket.
He completed his half century after punching part-time spinner Martin Guptill to the sweeper cover region for three runs. The kind of applause he received after completing his 59th half century, one can imagine what will happen if he reached the coveted landmark.
The maestro, who was only perturbed by a few short balls from Tim Southee, hit some delightful strokes on both sides of the wicket. Those included a cover drive and steer off Southee, an arrow like straight drive and a cut off McKay and a drive through the mid-wicket boundary off Martin.
With Dravid (69 batting, 167 balls, 8x4) also looking good for his 31st Test century, the hosts would ideally like to pile up a huge score in order to avoid batting last on this track. The Tendulkar-Dravid duo had added exactly 100 runs for the unbroken third wicket stand.
However, if India are in the box seat, credit should go to the start provided by opening duo Sehwag-Gambhir---- inarguably India's best opening pair in Test matches since Sunil Gavaskar and Chetan Chauhan in the late 70Â's and early 80's.
The two Delhi players have only themselves to blame for missing out on well-deserved centuries as loose shots led to their dismissals.
While Sehwag scored 74 off only 73 deliveries with the help of 12 fours and a six, Gambhir who has just been made the ODI captain for two matches played an useful innings of 78 with the help of 12 boundaries.
It was again Sehwag who provided the momentum as he send the New Zealand bowlers on a leather hunt blasting his way to 26th half century in Test cricket.
Gambhir, who is slowly regaining his touch, was the perfect foil to his partner taking singles and giving Sehwag more of the strike.
When Sehwag plays his natural game, the margin of error is very less for the opposition bowlers. Time and again the Black Caps bowlers have suffered in the hands of Sehwag and it wasn't any different during the first session. He started off punching Southee through the vacant cover region for a boundary.
Chris Martin, who has troubled the Indian batsmen with some incisive spells, was then pulled twice to the mid-wicket region for couple of boundaries. Whenever the New Zealand pacers Martin, Southee or debutant Andy McKay tried to add an extra yard of pace, they were guided over the slips through the vacant third man region with minimum fuss.
When skipper Vettori came into bowl, the Nawab of Najafgarh danced down the track to clear the long-on ropes. He also played quite a few delightful late cuts off the spinner. With loose hands he would just steer the ball in the vacant region between the keeper and the first slip. He completed his half century off 50 deliveries.
Vettori finally got his revenge when Sehwag couldn't check his drive as he gave the New Zealand captain a simple return catch. The duo put on 113 runs for the opening stand.
At the other end, Gambhir, who had grown in confidence watching Sehwag bat also clipped Southee to square leg for successive boundaries. He also hit a lovely cover drive off McKay who did trouble the southpaw as he brought a few back into the batsman.
After Sehwag's departure, Gambhir looked even more fluent with his drives while Dravid quietly settled down. Gambhir completed his 13th half century hitting Vettori over deep mid-wicket for a boundary.
Just when he looked like getting set for his 10th century in Test cricket, he needlessly flashed a Southee delivery to be caught by Ross Taylor at gully ending a fruitful 79-run second wicket stand.
Dravid's was a more gritty effort waiting for the loose deliveries. He took his own time to settle down but none of the New Zealand pace trio of Martin, Southee and McKay was able to bother him.
Earlier, Ishant Sharma (4/43) quickly dismissed Brendon McCullum (40, 84 balls, 4x4) to ensure that Kiwi tail doesn't wag for long.
McCullum, who is suffering from back spasms didn't look any better than yesterday as he came out to bat. A streaky boundary past a diving Virender Sehwag at gully got him a boundary.
The bowler Ishant, however had the last laugh when he hit one back of length and cramped McCullum who went for another cut shot only to edge it to Mahendra Singh Dhoni behind stumps.
McKay hit a boundary but didn't last long enough as Ishant got his fourth victim castling the New Zealand No. 10.
India vs New Zealand
Tim Southee, who was playing patiently till then decided to throw caution to the wind as he launched into Harbhajan Singh hitting him for a couple of big sixes and a boundary in one particular over.
He first hit Harbhajan over long-on and then a slog sweep that went to the mid-wicket boundary followed by another mighty heave over deep mid-wicket.
The New Zealand pacer hit the third six off the innings when he cleared the long-on boundary off Ojha's bowling.
However, he perished trying to repeat the shot off the left-arm spinner who got his third scalp with Virender Sehwag holding onto a skier at mid-on.