Mohali: Indian opener Virender Sehwag gave himself a birthday gift two days early with a blazing 128 not out in the second and final cricket Test against New Zealand. The aggressive batsman, who turns 25 on Monday, hammered two sixes and 16 fours in his fourth Test hundred to help India post 203-1 on the third day in reply to New Zealand's mammoth 630-6 declared.
India still need 228 more runs to avoid a follow-on. Stand-in captain Rahul Dravid was the other unbeaten batsman on nine on Saturday. New Zealand, who had kept India in the field for two full days and the first session of the third morning, struggled to contain runs which flowed rapidly from Sehwag's bat. Sehwag spent a few tense moments in the nineties before completing his hundred. He was struck on the helmet by a delivery from fast bowler Daryl Tuffey and then got stuck on 99 before reaching the century with a single. India went after the New Zealand bowling from the beginning as Sehwag set the tone with a flurry of boundaries. The hosts scored 99 in the second session and 89 in the last. Left-arm spinner Daniel Vettori was the only bowler to command respect from Sehwag, conceding just 27 runs from 24 overs.
Sehwag received valuable support from fellow-opener Akash Chopra, who made 60 in a first-wicket stand of 164. Chopra hit six fours in his 148-ball knock before being caught by Nathan Astle at lone slip off Tuffey. Nearly 20,000 spectators enjoyed the run-feast on the easy-paced track where just two wickets fell on the third day at a cost of 297 runs. The New Zealand batting might was on view in the morning as the tourists added 94 runs to their overnight score of 536-5 to post their second-highest Test total ever. Their best ever was 671-4 against Sri Lanka at Wellington in 1990-91.
Craig McMillan became the fourth batsman after Mark Richardson (145), Lou Vincent (106) and Scott Styris (119) to score a hundred, only the second time that four New Zealanders hit centuries in a Test innings. Nathan Astle, Stephen Fleming, Adam Parore and Vincent had made centuries in a Test innings against Australia at Perth in 2001-02. McMillan, who put on 70 for the unfinished seventh-wicket stand with Vettori, hit one six and seven fours in his sixth Test hundred.
Vettori also capitalised on a hapless Indian bowling, contributing an unbeaten 48 off just 50 balls with five fours. India toiled hard for their lone success in the morning session as their fast bowlers and spinners lacked sharpness to unsettle McMillan. Leg-spinner Anil Kumble was the only successful bowler when he bowled Robbie Hart round his legs in the day's third over. The batsman added just one run to his overnight score of 10 before being out sweeping. McMillan played shots with freedom, lofting part-time spinner Sehwag for a six and then completing his hundred with a single in the same over. New Zealand declared their innings closed immediately after McMillan's century and then saw their bowling in disarray following Sehwag's onslaught.