September 25, 2020
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McMillan, Astle Deny India

The duo's unbeaten 103-run stand for the seventh wicket salvages a draw for the team which was on the backfoot for most part of the Test

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McMillan, Astle Deny India
Craig McMillan
McMillan, Astle Deny India

Craig McMillan and Nathan Astle upset India's applecart with gritty unbeaten knocks as the first Test ended in a tame draw on the fifth and final day at the Sardar Patel Stadium in Ahmedabad today.

All the good work of India was reduced to naught by the duo who put on 103 runs for the seventh wicket to salvage a draw for their team which had been on the backfoot for most part of the match.

It was a frustrating outcome for India who looked very much in sight of a win when they had reduced New Zealand to 169 for six by tea.

But the Kiwis showed remarkable character and resilience, epitomised by McMillan (83) and Astle (51), to fight back and deny India victory.

While New Zealand will now go into the second and final Test starting in Mohali on October 16 with a positive frame of mind, Indian skipper Saurav Ganguly will be worried by the fact that his bowlers could not finish off New Zealand's second innings in more than three full sessions of play.

The drab final session saw little action as the Indian bowlers failed to separate McMillan and Astle, who had both missed New Zealand's last tour to Sri Lanka due to injuries.

There was no support for Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh, who shared all the six second innings wickets to fall between them, from speedsters Zaheer Khan and L Balaji.

Kumble turned out to be the most successful with four wickets in his kitty while Harbhajan scalped two but their efforts did not prove enough for bowling out the Kiwis who were set a target of 370 runs with more than a day's play at hand.

The task was never easy for the visitors, struggling often to counter the heat and humidity on a pitch that favoured none, but they did well to defy the odds through some great individual efforts.

Once India scored 500 runs, built around the double century by 'The Wall' Rahul Dravid before declaring their first innings, New Zealand knew they would need some similar extra-ordinary efforts to bail them out.

Astle, who has to his credit the record of scoring the fastest ever double century in Tests, was the first to the  rescue of his team and later the Kiwis found an unexpected saviour in tailender Daniel Vettori (60) as they avoided the follow-on mark of 301 runs before being bowled out for 340.

Ganguly showed he was in no mood to let slip India's advantage when he made a sporting second innings declaration at 209 for six after the batsmen had scored at more than four runs an over to pile up some quick runs. Dravid, declared man-of-the-match, again shone with the bat scoring a stroke-filled 73.

The 370-run target meant the Kiwis decided to go defensive and play out for a draw, a task neatly accomplished in the end.

The Kiwis, who were 48 overnight and had lost opener Mark Richardson for 21 in the 20 overs that they batted yesterday, started positively this morning with nightwatchman Daryl Tuffey and Lou Vincent taking the score to 68 when Kumble struck to dismiss Tuffey for eight.

It was the most productive first session for India as they allowed New Zealand to add just 53 runs to their overnight total while scalping three wickets in the process.

Kumble's success charged up Harbhajan, bowling from the other end, as the off-spinner tightened his line and length to make the Kiwi batsmen struggle for every run.

The relentless spin attack from both ends proved to be too much for the batsmen and they started erring in their shot selection.

Harbhajan was rewarded with the prized wicket of New Zealand skipper Stephen Fleming with the total reading 85. Fleming, who had failed in the first innings as well, played a poor shot and V.V.S. Laxman at silly point took a fine catch to dismiss the Kiwi captain for a 31-ball 8.

The Indians had more reasons to celebrate when new man Scott Styris was sent back to the pavilion just a run later by Kumble.

It was one of the faster deliveries from the ace leg-spinner that did the trick and had the all-rounder trapped leg before wicket for a duck.

Having been reduced to 86 for four, the onus was now on Vincent and McMillan to steady the boat and they held on till the lunch break.

Vincent looked in good touch en route to his 67 but he succumbed to a poor shot and played on a Kumble delivery to his stumps as New Zealand were reduced to 150 for five. Oram (7) departed 19 runs later when he was caught by Dravid off Harbhajan as India charged at the Kiwis with renewed vigour.

However, India's exuberance proved to be short-lived as McMillan and Astle got together to pull the rug from under their feet.

McMillan did a commendable job in curbing his natural aggressive instinct and played according to what the situation demanded. He hit eight fours and seemed content with just playing defensive through his 191-ball knock. But he did hit two fours in an over by Kumble towards the fag end of the match.

Astle also chose not to be too adventurous and batted sensibly for his 135-ball 51 which also included eight fours.


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