Indian bowlers buzz

The victorious Indian team.-Pics: R. DEEPAK

Finally, the Indian bowling unit delivered. While the surface at Nagpur's VCA ground offered more help to the bowlers than at the venues of the two earlier Tests, the Indian attack bowled in better areas. This was the crucial switch as India clinched the series 1-0. Over to S. Dinakar.

India finally did what it was expected to do all along; it overwhelmed New Zealand. A victory by an innings and 198 runs in the third Test — the country's third highest margin in terms of runs — underlined the Indian dominance.

Finally, the bowling unit delivered. While the surface at Nagpur's VCA ground offered more help to the bowlers than at the venues of the two earlier Tests, the Indian attack bowled in better areas. This was the crucial switch as India clinched the series 1-0.

Ishant Sharma's return from fitness concerns was welcome news for India ahead of the series in South Africa. The side would have been even happier with the fact that the lanky paceman was the pick of the bowlers on a sub-continental track.

Bowlers win matches and Ishant certainly added another dimension to the attack with his pace and thrust. He generated impressive speeds, extracted a measure of bounce and bowled telling off-cutters while straightening the odd delivery.

As New Zealand captain Daniel Vettori said, “With due respect to the spinners, Ishant was the difference in the Indian attack.”

Of course, Rahul Dravid's 31st Test century and his second of the series showcased his innings-building skills and cultured stroke-play. The experienced campaigner strung together crucial partnerships, both blunted and carved the attack and batted New Zealand out of the Test. His 191 was yet another edifice from a man who constructs monuments.

It was once again evident why picking the length early is the heart of Dravid's batsmanship. Here, it is important to dissect the right-hander's methods.

Dravid's bat-lift starts from around third slip but how it travels further depends on where the ball pitches. If the ball is on a good length or pitched up, Dravid's bat comes down a lot straighter. If the delivery is lacking in length, Dravid halts his down swing, and his bat, already in an elevated position, is well positioned for the cut and the pull.

This explains why Dravid is such a good cutter and puller. It is the flexibility of his down-swing that makes him a batsman with strokes all around the wicket.

Another vital feature of his batting is the transfer of weight as he adjusts to play off either foot. Dravid is solid off his backfoot and leans — he is seldom over-balanced — into his front-footed strokes of defence and offence. At the VCA ground, Dravid's 396-ball innings drained the Kiwis physically and mentally after the bowlers had set up India's win by bundling out New Zealand for 193.

The Kiwis suffered a setback after the toss was delayed by a damp outfield following overnight rain. Brendon McCullum injured his back while training minutes before the spin of the coin.

Now, the in-form McCullum is a key man in the scheme of things for New Zealand. It was the opener's double-hundred in the second Test that essentially saved the match for the Kiwis in Hyderabad.

The injury forced the Kiwis to re-work their batting order. The New Zealanders still elected to bat after winning the toss but missed the power and influence of McCullum at the top of the order.

Rahul Dravid and Mahendra Singh Dhoni gave a real headache to the Kiwis.-

While New Zealand's decision to bat was along predictable lines, the nature of its attack and the conditions at the start put the ploy under the scanner.

The visitor went into the match with a three-man pace attack and a lone spinner in skipper Vettori. This suggested that even in the case of India batting last on what might be a wearing pitch, Vettori would be without any spin support.

There is always the argument that the composition of the attack should dictate a team's decision after it wins the toss.

Then, there was always the possibility of the pitch having more moisture at the start of day one because of rain ahead of the Test. Even if the square is covered, the wicket tends to absorb water from the surrounding areas.

As it turned out, the surface was at its liveliest at the beginning of the Test. The Kiwis needed to survive the first two hours with minimal loss and consolidate. Instead, the Indian bowlers made major inroads.

Sreesanth got his deliveries to leave the right-hander and Ishant was a handful with his speed, line and cut. To make matters worse, left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha probed with his flight and drift. Harbhajan, too, operated to a much better line.

Only the left-handed Jesse Ryder — he has a short back-lift but generates considerable power with his wrists — offered appreciable resistance with a well-made 59.

McCullum surfaced down the order and did put up a fight but Ishant snared him outside the off-stump on the second morning. New Zealand's total of below 200 made the side extremely vulnerable.

Then a rampant Virender Sehwag (74) and the left-handed Gautam Gambhir (78), gradually finding his way back to form, laid a solid platform for India.

Dravid consolidated on the gains with focus and flair. Crucially, he built partnerships with Gambhir, Tendulkar (61) and Dhoni (98).

The skipper's effort was a typically wristy one with cuts, slashes, whips and whippy drives. His innings signalled a return to form.

On the flip side for the host, Suresh Raina failed yet again. Worse, the left-hander appeared unconvincing against the short-pitched stuff from the pacemen.

India's 566 for eight declared left the Kiwis with too much to do in the second innings. The visitors fell in a heap.

Ishant, once again, delivered with intensity, pace and control, Sreesanth moved the ball away consistently, Harbhajan spun the ball sharply into the right-hander and Ojha kept up the pressure from the other end.

That Tim Southee's 31 was the highest individual score of the innings told the story. The innings was not without umpiring errors. Martin Guptill and Ross Taylor were victims of blunders.

At the end of it all, the Indians were runaway winners. To tell the truth, the Kiwis had little chance after the collapse on day one.

THE SCORES

Third Test, Nagpur, November 20-23, 2010. India won by an innings and 198 runs.

New Zealand — 1st innings: T. McIntosh b Sreesanth 4; M. Guptill c Dhoni b Sreesanth 6; R. Taylor lbw b Ishant 20; J. Ryder c Raina b Harbhajan 59; K. Williamson c Sehwag b Ojha 0; D. Vettori b Ishant 3; G. Hopkins c Raina b Ojha 7; B. McCullum c Dhoni b Ishant 40; T. Southee c Sehwag b Ojha 38; A. McKay b Ishant 5; C. Martin (not out) 2; Extras (b-1, lb-5, nb-3) 9. Total: 193.

Fall of wickets: 1-11, 2-16, 3-42, 4-43, 5-51, 6-82, 7-124, 8-159, 9-165.

India bowling: Sreesanth 12-4-28-2; Ishant 18-4-43-4; Ojha 19.3-2-57-3; Harbhajan 17-2-59-1.

India — 1st innings: G. Gambhir c Taylor b Southee 78; V. Sehwag c & b Vettori 74; R. Dravid c Guptill b Williamson 191; S. Tendulkar c Hopkins b McKay 61; V. V. S. Laxman b Martin 12; S. Raina c sub b Vettori 3; M. Dhoni c & b Vettori 98; Harbhajan Singh c McCullum b Martin 20; Ishant Sharma (not out) 7; S. Sreesanth (not out) 0; Extras (b-12, lb-5, w-4, nb-1) 22. Total (for eight wkts., decl.) 566.

Fall of wickets: 1-113, 2-192, 3-296, 4-309, 5-328, 6-521, 7-549, 8-562.

New Zealand bowling: Martin 28-4-82-2; Southee 29-5-94-1; McKay 31-5-120-1; Vettori 58-7-178-3; Williamson 11-0-45-1; Guptill 7-0-27-0; Taylor 1-0-3-0.

New Zealand — 2nd innings: T. McIntosh lbw b Harbhajan 8; B. McCullum lbw b Ojha 25; G. Hopkins c Gambhir b Harbhajan 8; M. Guptill lbw b Ojha 0; R. Taylor c sub b Harbhajan 29; J. Ryder c Ishant b Raina 22; K. Williamson b Ishant 8; D. Vettori lbw b Raina 13; T. Southee b Ishant 31; A. McKay (not out) 20; C. Martin b Ishant 0; Extras (b-10, lb-1) 11. Total: 175.

Fall of wickets: 1-18, 2-38, 3-38, 4-62, 5-93, 6-110, 7-123, 8-124, 9-175.

India bowling: Sreesanth 7-3-25-0; Ishant 6.2-2-15-3; Ojha 17-2-67-2; Harbhajan 19-4-56-3; Raina 2-1-1-2.