Indian pacers leave New Zealand at 61 for six at lunch (Lead)

March 18th, 2009 - 9:06 am ICT by IANS  

Chris Martin Hamilton, March 18 (IANS) India’s pace trio Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma and Munaf Patel backed their captain’s decision to bowl by reducing New Zealand to 61 for six in a sensational morning session in the first cricket Test here at Seddon Park.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni said after winning the toss that he wanted his bowlers to bowl on a fresh pitch if his side has to take 20 wickets to win a Test. And the muggy conditions and a greenish top seemed to justify the decision.

Zaheer, Ishant and Munaf zipped through the New Zealand top order applying tremendous pressure on the batsmen.

Zaheer struck, taking two wickets in four balls, and then Ishant claimed three in a jiffy coming on for his second spell. Munaf was rewarded for his terrific line and length when he forced the dangerous Brendon McCullum to poke at one that left him to be caught at second slip by V.V.S. Laxman.

At the break, the home team were left with only Jesse Ryder to try and retrieve the situation with his skipper Daniel Vettori, who said he would have batted had he won the toss, and tail to follow.

The start of the innings did not suggest that the pitch had any devil in it though Zaheer and Ishant got the ball wobble a bit.

Tim McIntosh looked overcautious, but debutant Martin Guptill did not show any nerves. All the same the runs were hard to come by and there was an air of expectancy.

Zaheer began the rout when he found the edge of Guptill’s bat and third-slip Rahul Dravid dived to his left in front of Laxman to come up with the catch at the second attempt.

It was Rahul’s 181st catch and he now shares the world record for catches with Australian Mark Waugh.

Zaheer’s next victim was Daniel Flynn whose intended leg glance ended in a caught-behind for Dhoni to give the left-arm bowler his 199th Test wicket.

Had Virender Sehwag not grassed Ross Taylor off Ishant at gully, despite being in a position to grab it twice, the Black Caps’ plight would have been much worse.

Taylor started to stroke the ball well to make the Indians wonder if they would pay for the lapse. Zaheer seemed to have had an extended spell as he showed signs of flagging as McIntosh and Taylor looked a shade comfortable.

Ishant returned to bowl and McIntosh’s attempt to steer went straight to the first of two gullies, Sehwag. Now the heat was really on even though the new batsman Ryder tried to be cool.

With Munaf pegging away to mount the pressure, Ishant struck again as Taylor could not negotiate a terrific deliver which took his off stump nicking the pad first on the way.

Ishant was lucky to get his third wicket as James Franklin, staging a comeback to Test cricket, was ruled caught behind by Simon Taufel, though replays clearly showed that the ball had kissed the back pad with the bat nowhere near it.

Half the New Zealand batting was back for 51 runs and when McCullum followed them and Vettori walked in, the situation was grim.

Dhoni’s decision to bowl came as a bit of a surprise, but he defended it, saying that it is better to bowl when the wicket is fresh and then bat when the conditions are the best on the second and third day.

“It looks a good wicket but if there is going to be anything in it, it will probably be in the first couple of hours or first half session,” Dhoni said.

“We have to get 20 wickets to win and we want to give our bowlers the best chance to get them.The best time to bowl for the seamers is when the wicket is fresh.”

Vettori sounded confident when he said: “We know it’s going to do a bit early on, but once you get through the first couple of hours, the track is good to bat,” he said

“We decided to back our batsman. There maybe a little bit there in the pitch, but if we get out and do a bit with the bat, we can nullify that.”

India have trengthened their batting by bringing in former captain Dravid and Laxman who were not part of the One-Day squad. Both played hundred plus Tests.

New Zealand omitted uncapped seamer Brent Arnel and spinner Jeetan Patel from their 13, retaining fast bowler Chris Martin whose selection had raised a controversy.

After winning the five-match limited-overs series 3-1, their first in this country, India are looking to making it a double by clinching the three-Test series.

The Indians have not won here for 41 years.

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