Zaheer Khan ripped through the New Zealand top order to leave the Kiwis tottering at 41 for three and place India firmly in the driver's seat on the second day of the first Test at the Sardar Patel Stadium in Ahmedabad today.
After the batting heroics of vice-captain Rahul Dravid, who hit a career-best 222 and skipper Saurav Ganguly (100 not out), it was the turn of Zaheer Khan to hog the limelight on a day when Indians completely dominated the visitors.
In a dream spell, the left-arm seamer uprooted the off-stumps of opener Mark Richardson and skipper Stephen Fleming besides getting rid of Lou Vincent to help India tighten the noose around the Kiwis.
Having declared their first innings at 500 for five one hour into the final session, the Indians were looking for early breakthroughs and Zaheer provided just that with his fiery opening spell which read 7-1-16-3.
India, playing without veteran speedster Javagal Srinath and Ashish Nehra, were relying heavily on Zaheer to deliver the goods and he did not disappoint.
Bowling on a wicket devoid of life, Zaheer worked up intelligent variations in length to bamboozle the Kiwi openers, already under pressure as Dravid and Ganguly and had heaped runs at will in the post-lunch session to make possible an early declaration.
Richardson (6), who scored a century against India 'A' at Visakhapatnam, was the first to go when he played on a Zaheer inswinger only to see his off-stump uprooted in spectacular fashion with the total reading 11.
The other Kiwi opener Vincent (7) departed five runs later when baby-faced Parthiv Patel took a brilliant one-handed catch off Zaheer in the ninth over.
The Indians, who had won the toss and elected to bat, had all the reasons to celebrate when dangerman Fleming (1), saw to his disbelief his off-stump cartwheeling by the effect of a Zaheer inswinger.
Speedster L Balaji, the other player to make his debut for India in this Test besides opener Akash Chopra, managed to keep his cool amidst the havoc created by Zaheer and returned decent figures of 5-2-9-0 by close.
The Kiwis, who have come here with hopes of winning their first ever Test series on Indian soil, will have to put their thinking caps on to negotiate the Indian attack on the morrow and counter the huge total posted by the hosts.
The credit for giving India the cushion of a good first innings total would go to Dravid who hammered out important partnerships after anchoring to safety his team which suffered mid-innings setbacks yesterday, losing debutant opener Akash Chopra and Sachin Tendulkar in quick succession.
Dravid, who scored his third double century today, was finally dismissed for 222, his career-best Test score, when he edged a Jacob Oram delivery to offer a simple catch to wicketkeeper Robbie Hart.
His marathon 387-ball knock, including 28 fours and one six, improved his previous best of 217 scored against England at the Oval last summer.
Dravid's 182-run stand with Ganguly was also India's highest fifth wicket partnership against the Kiwis. The previous best partnership for the fifth wicket was of 127 runs between Vijay Manjrekar and G.S. Ramchand in 1955-56.
Ganguly was also quite impressive as he build on a tentative start to score a confidence-boosting century which boasted of eight fours and three sixes.
After Dravid's dismissal, Ganguly added another 54 runs with Parthiv Patel who delighted the home crowd with a cameo knock of 29 scored off just 24 balls.
The youngest player in the Indian squad, Patel showed remarkable maturity in the way he executed his five boundaries before the declaration brought an end to his fireworks.
Earlier, there was some drama when Ganguly was warned twice by the umpires for running on the pitch before being penalised two runs for the offence.
Ganguly, who came to the wicket at the fall of V.V.S. Laxman (62) in the morning when India resumed at 249 for three, was also cautioned by Rudy Koertzen in the final session of play for a similar offence.
The International Cricket Council rules treat running on the pitch as unfair play and specify that runs from a second infringement could be deducted from the batsman's score.
India, who were guilty of scoring at a painfully slow rate till lunch today, stepped up the scoring rate after the break to add 118 runs without losing a wicket in the second session.
The session saw the captain and his deputy break the shackles to reach important personal milestones en route to a healthy total on the board.
Fleming, who had been successful in keeping the stroke-loving Indian batsmen in check till the lunch session, had little answer to the rampaging duo's tactics, determined to step on the gas and ensure the hosts did not let go the initiative.
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