Ind-NZ Rewind: Bhajji’s maiden Test ton
Mumbai, Aug 13: The November 2010 Ahmedabad Test, the first of the three-match series between India and New Zealand, ended in a draw. At least, that is how the record books would like us to remember that game. A closer look, however, reveals that after the Kiwis had reduced India to 82 for six in their second innings late on Day 4, a sparkling ton from Harbhajan Singh, the first of his Test career, saved India the match and the blushes.
It had been an even contest until India embarked on its second innings. After contrasting centuries from Virender Sehwag (173 off 199 balls) and Rahul Dravid (104 off 227) had steered India to 487, the visitors got to within 28 runs of the hosts’ first innings score with attritional tons from Jesse Ryder (103 off 205 balls) and debutant Kane Williamson (131 off 299 balls). Moreover, with New Zealand’s first innings coming to an end well into the post lunch session on Day 4, a draw seemed the only probable result.
But the game changed course, and quite drastically. After Gautam Gambhir (0) inside edged a widish delivery from Chris Martin to wicketkeeper Gareth Hopkins, Virender Sehwag (1) found himself short of his crease following a horrible mid-pitch mix-up with Rahul Dravid to leave India in all kinds of trouble at one for two. A few overs later, Martin had first innings’ centurion, Dravid (1), poking at a delivery that held its line and the faint nick carried through to wicketkeeper Hopkins. The hosts went into tea at two for three, a New Zealand victory appearing all the more likely than a draw in the calamitous change of events.
Martin continued to wreak havoc post tea. Sachin Tendulkar (12) inside edged a delivery from the pacer on to his stumps while Suresh Raina, playing only his fifth Test, and coming off a disappointing first innings score (3), registered the first duck of his fledgling Test career when he nicked Martin to slip. MS Dhoni walked in with the score at 15 for five, and weathered the Martin mayhem during a 97-minute stay at the wicket. However, the Kiwi pacer finally broke past Dhoni’s defenses when he had the latter deflect a short ball on to his stumps. At 65 for six, and India only 93 runs ahead, a New Zealand win now appeared very much in the offing.
Walking out to bat at No. 8, Harbhajan Singh, had endured a very contrasting Test until that point. After 43 overs of bowling in NZ’s first innings, the off-spinner had only one wicket to show for his efforts. But then he produced his highest Test score of 69 (off 97 balls) that pushed India’s first innings score to 487.
Harbhajan’s reputation as a fighter was never in doubt. He, invariably, produced his best when the odds were stacked against him. It was a quality that extended to his batting as well. His innings in the Nottingham Test (54) of 2002, Sydney Test (63) of 2008, Bengaluru (54) and Nagpur (52) Tests of 2008 were all proof of his tenacity. Yet, if India needed to save the game here, Harbhajan needed to produce something even more special than his previous best efforts as a batsman. With VVS Laxman giving him company, Harbhajan helped India end Day 4 without any further loss of wickets at 82 for six. Interestingly, in what was a sign of things to come on Day 5, Harbhajan smashed a big six off Daniel Vettori over long-on, moments before stumps were drawn on Day 4.
The next day, Laxman and Bhajji dug in. The two batsmen dented the Kiwi challenge in their own unique style. Where Laxman’s dour innings of 91 (came off 253 deliveries) was chanceless, Harbhajan lived a charmed life. The ball often found the edge of his bat, but on each occasion he got away. His half-century came off just 78 balls. Of his match-saving 163-run partnership for the seventh wicket with Laxman, Harbhajan scored 94. In this time, Harbhajan pulled, reverse swept, cut and lofted the New Zealand bowlers to the point of abject surrender.
When Laxman fell with the score at 228, followed immediately after by Zaheer Khan (0), Harbhajan was six short of his maiden century in Test cricket. And when Daniel Vettori, having accounted for Laxman and Khan in his previous over, began his next over, Harbhajan hit a massive inside out shot over wide long-off for six to bring up his first Test century. It was a sight to behold as Harbhajan celebrated his effort by doing an impersonation of Sachin Tendulkar’s batting routine, to the delight of the fans and the little master himself.
Harbhajan’s innings of 115 (off 193 balls) was finally brought to an end by Ross Taylor, who, incidentally, bagged his first Test victim when he had Harbhajan miscue a full-toss straight into the hands of Bradley-John Watling, standing at short-fine leg. India’s second innings came to a close six runs later, at 266, but by which time the Test had been saved. The match, eventually, ended in a draw with New Zealand getting to 22 for one in 10 overs in their second innings.
Harbhajan, deservedly, won the man-of-the-match award. Speaking on the occasion he said, “Never dreamt I would be MoM for batting – not in Tests, maybe in the one-dayers… More than the hundred, I was happy we saved the game.”
You can view the complete scorecard of the 2010 India versus New Zealand Ahmedabad Test, here.