India rues dropped chance, New Zealand 40 runs ahead

Published: Friday, December 13, 2002, 19:38 [IST]
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Wellington: New Zealand opener Mark Richardson extended his impressive run with the bat as he slammed an unbeaten 83, but he failed to stop India from bouncing back into the opening Test on Friday.

The left-hander, who scored 95 and 71 in his previous Test against the West Indies at St George's in July, struck 10 fours in his 13th half-century as the hosts reached 201 for seven at stumps on a rain-curtailed second day. New Zealand was only 40 runs ahead with three wickets in hand after bundling India out for 161 in the first innings on Thursday. India was very much in the fray despite Richardson's brilliant effort as left-arm paceman Zaheer Khan and off spinner Harbhajan Singh shared five wickets to prevent New Zealand from gaining a big advantage. India had a chance to put more pressure on the hosts, but V V S Laxman dropped Richardson at second slip off seamer Ajit Agarkar when the batsman was on 63 in a total 133. Zaheer bagged three for 42 and Harbhajan two for 22 as New Zealand slipped from a healthy 181 for three, losing its last four wickets for just 20 runs on a day when more than three hours' play was lost due to early morning rain. Richardson, 31, alone kept the Indian pace-spin attack at bay for a long spell and upstaged his more renowned teammates with an innings of controlled aggression on a fast and bouncy Basin Reserve track. He put on 66 for the second wicket with skipper Stephen Fleming (25) and 70 for the fourth with Nathan Astle (41) before Zaheer and Harbhajan struck to restore balance. Zaheer provided the crucial breakthrough when he surprised free-stroking Astle with bounce to have the batsman caught by Harbhajan at point. Astle had been looking dangerous during his 98-minute stay at the crease, square- driving Agarkar for two boundaries in an over and then pulling him for another four. Indian bowlers were seen in a different light after Astle's dismissal at 181 as Harbhajan removed Scott Styris and debutant Jacob Oram for nought in successive overs. Zaheer then trapped wicket-keeper Robbie Hart leg before for six in his last over to end the day as he had begun - on an impressive note. He kept probing the batsmen and struck just when New Zealand had threatened to build a big partnership. He broke the Richardson-Fleming stand when he bowled the New Zealand captain with the one that cut in sharply off the pitch. He then removed Astle when the batsman had been looking set to take the game away from India. Medium-pacer Sanjay Bangar also chipped in when he had Craig McMillan leg before for nine to keep pressure on the hosts in his 11 disciplined overs. Richardson kept one end intact with sensible batting as he picked the right deliveries to punish during his 368-minute stay at the crease, confidently driving and cutting the fast bowlers to various parts of the boundary. He, however, received little support from the other end in the closing 15 overs as Zaheer and Harbhajan kept striking at regular intervals to lead India's fight back.

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