India maintained their stranglehold despite a creditable century by Nathan Astle which placed New Zealand 19 runs short of avoiding a follow-on in the first Test at the Sardar Patel Stadium in Ahmedabad.
Tottering at 17 for three at one stage, New Zealand fought back on the third day today mainly on account of Astle's 103-run knock and his 91-run stand with half-centurion Craig McMillan (54).
But India, enjoying the cushion of 500 runs in the first innings, neutralised the Kiwi advantage by taking three wickets in the final session of play to again have the visitors on the backfoot at 282 for eight when stumps were drawn.
Defying the pace-spin attack of the Indians at close were a pair of spinners in Daniel Vettori, batting on 28, and Paul Wiseman, not out on eight.
It was the spinners -- Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble -- who made it difficult for the rival batsmen to score easy runs. The duo was rewarded for their effort, with Harbhajan getting rid of Scott Styris and Astle and Kumble dismissing Jacob Oram.
Debutant L. Balaji snared his first Test wicket when he had Robbie Hart trapped plumb in front as New Zealand were reduced to 265 for eight. But that was about all as the Indian bowlers failed to finish off the tail to leave the match interestingly poised.
Vettori was surely turning out to be a thorn for the Indians as the cool and poised tailender defied whatever was dished out to him by skipper Saurav Ganguly.
The left-arm spinner had hit the Indian bowlers -- Zaheer Khan, Harbhajan, Kumble, Sehwag and Balaji -- for a four each in his unfinished 71-ball knock.
The Indians will look to get rid of the Kiwi tail early tomorrow and try and enforce a follow-on to remain firmly in the driver's seat in this first of the two-Test series.
There was a stage in the match today though when New Zealand dominated for a brief period with Astle and McMillan threatening to pull apart the bowling attack with some attractive stroke making.
But both the batsmen were guilty of getting carried away and throwing away their wickets recklessly.
McMillan hit as many as eight fours and had settled into a fine rhythm during the 92 balls that he faced alongside his more illustrious partner Astle before he was deceived by a Sehwag delivery and ended up giving a fine catch to Akash Chopra at forward short leg.
Astle scored his very first century against India and his ninth overall in style with a four off Harbhajan in 195 balls and appeared to take his side to safety.
But once Harbhajan and Kumble were bowling in tandem after tea, runs became hard to come by and Astle's patience gave away. He stepped out to loft Harbhajan, only to see local boy Parthiv Patel effect a fine stumping.
Ganguly, it seemed, wanted to use his best bets Harbhajan and Kumble sparingly once it became clear that the fast bowlers could not do much on the Sardar Patel wicket. He allowed them to bowl in tandem only towards the end of a session but made an exception in the final session and was immediately rewarded with the wicket of danger man Astle.
Kumble and Balaji, who had toiled hard without result till the final session, notched a wicket each.
Balaji dismissed Hart for 15 when he had the wicketkeeper-batsman trapped plumb in front while Kumble sent back Oram who looked distinctly ill at ease during his laboured 50-ball stay at the wicket. He managed just five runs before Dravid took a good catch at first slip to have the Kiwis 227 for seven.
Both the bowlers had a special reason to be delighted -- for Balaji it was the first ever Test scalp while for the veteran leggie it was the 350th victim of his long and illustrious career.
The sole redeeming feature of the day's play for the Kiwis was the knock of star batsman Astle.
It was a comeback of sorts for Astle who missed New Zealand's last Test series against Sri Lanka due to a knee injury.
The task was never easy for Astle who came in after the fall of three quick wickets yesterday following India's first innings declaration on 500 for five.
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