Cricket: Rain's rescue couldn't hide gulf

By David Leggat

There was no hiding the gulf between India and New Zealand in the international rankings as the test series came to a wet conclusion at the Basin Reserve yesterday.

India would have won the series 2-0 had they been smart with their second innings declaration rather than batting on far beyond the point they needed to.

So when the rain arrived before tea yesterday, the Indians got some rough justice they could easily have avoided.

New Zealand, needing the impossible 617 to win the test and square the series, were 281 for eight when the rain arrived.

India's 1-0 win is their first in New Zealand since 1968 and there was no disputing they were worth it.

New Zealand got off with a draw largely thanks to a solid morning's work by overnight pair Ross Taylor and James Franklin.

Their conscientious 142-run stand for the fifth wicket - a record against India, eclipsing the 140 of Craig McMillan and Adam Parore at Hamilton in 1998-99 - kept the New Zealand lower order protected just long enough that the Indians ran out of time.

Taylor's second century in three innings, and fourth overall, was richly deserved, a mix of positive intent with dutiful defence.

But when he was bowled after misjudging a Harbhajan Singh delivery, trouble brewed.

Brendon McCullum was unluckily given caught at slip off occasional legspinner Sachin Tendulkar, who then had Franklin lbw one short of a second 50 in the series.

But the rain, with some grit from Iain O'Brien and captain Dan Vettori, was enough to secure the draw.

Vettori was left to rue a lost opportunity when New Zealand had India 204 for six on the first afternoon, having sent the tourists in.

"From then on it was India's game," Vettori said last night.

"The way we'd bowled put ourselves into a position to be on the front foot throughout the game. But we didn't quite get our plans right.

"We bowled too short at the Indian tail and they got away on us. We didn't take our opportunities and if you do that against good sides you struggle."

But he maintained the logic behind sending India in was solid and had no regrets.

"I still say India 200 for six - you take that any day of the week". And Vettori wasn't about to criticise India for delaying their second innings declaration, quite correctly pointing out that "they dominated the test so they had the prerogative to make the declaration any time they wanted to".

Before the test, Vettori was suspicious of how the pitch would play. Ideally he wanted "a little bit going on on the first couple of days" of a test New Zealand had to win.

Last night he put his hand up.

"If I took a neutral view it's one of the best test wickets I've played on. It had everything in it that you want from a test pitch and if we play on that in years to come it will continue to be a fantastic ground."

In the end, New Zealand had to accept the obvious; India were the better side in the series - New Zealand's dominance of the first half of the second test in Napier on a flat pitch notwithstanding.

India are third, New Zealand eighth on the rankings, and that position sticks in Vettori's craw. This is the first home season since 1995-96 that New Zealand have not won at least one test.

"There is talent within the team and we're probably not justifying that talent with the level of our results," he said.

The aim was to reach the top of the rankings, but Vettori is realistic.

"We've got to be up to fourth or fifth in the next 24 months. That would be pleasing."

Vettori insisted his team are their harshest critics. "We have higher expectations than anyone else so we critique ourselves a lot harder than anyone." They have plenty to sift through in the debrief.

- NZ Herald

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