Rohit Sharma came up with a resolute knock of 82 runs on a two-paced track as India survived a top order collapse to grab the driving seat on a riveting third day of the second cricket Test against New Zealand at the Eden Gardens here on Sunday.
The hosts reached 227/8 in their second innings at stumps, opening up a comfortable 339-run gulf with their rivals. Earlier in the day, the New Zealand first innings folded at 204, conceding a 112-run lead to the hosts. India had totalled 316 in their opening essay.
Rohit (82; 132 b, 9×4, 2×6), who had struck an unbeaten 68 in the first Test at Kanpur, delivered when his side needed the most, as he continued his love affair with the famed ground where he scored 177 against the West Indies in a Test and 264 in a One-Day International opposite Sri Lanka.
At close of play, local boy Wriddhiman Saha (39; 87 b, 3×4) was unbeaten — the junior partner in a 103-run seventh wicket stand off 179 balls with Rohit that consolidated India’s position post-tea break. Giving Saha company was Bhuvneshwar Kumar (9; 1×6).
Mumbaikar Rohit showed exemplary grit as he earlier combined with skipper Virat Kohli (45, 65 b, 7×4) for a 48-run fifth-wicket partnership at a time India were tottering at 43/4 in the post-lunch session with the Kiwi pacers causing havoc, exploiting the uneven bounce on the wicket.
Kiwi quicks Trent Boult (2/28) and Matt Henry (3/44) had virtually brought their side back in contention in the match after lunch by unleashing a barrage of short-pitched offerings which caught the Indians repeatedly on the wrong foot.
India lost four star batsmen cheaply, with Henry claiming three of them.
Henry picked up Murali Vijay (7) off the fourth ball of the session, with the angled away moving delivery inducing a nick that finished at second slip. The Indian opener had got out to the same bowler in the first innings.
The Christchurch-born then saw the back of Cheteshwar Pujara (4) in his next over with a leg before verdict, though television replay indicated that the ball could have missed the leg stump.
Dhawan, who was struggling against the rising deliveries and once even took a hit on his left shoulder in the morning, became Boult’s first victim, reducing India to 34/3. The left hander offered a defensive bat to a delivery that cut in, and the leather struck his pad in front of the middle stump.
India suffered a further setback when Ajinkya Rahane (1) tried to pull a short ball from Boult and managed only a top edge to long leg.
Kohli, whose blade has never quite fired in Test matches at Eden Gardens, played some wonderful strokes, including an out-of-the-world on drive to Henry that rocketed to the fence. He also negotiated well the aggressive Boult, who kept up a nagging line on or a shade out of the off stump hoping for an edge.
But Boult finally won the duel with one that kept low bringing the Indian skipper to his knees and hit the pad.
Mitchell Santner saw the back of Ravichandran Ashwin (5) close to tea, with the Indian falling leg before- – the fourth batsman to get out in this fashion during the innings.
Rohit began cautiously — though he hit an early six off Jeetan Patel — taking 50 deliveries to strike his first four. But once Kohli went back, Sharma took charge, and showed his flair with some elegant shots in the off region, as also a couple of delicate sweeps on the leg side.
He got out to a sharp turning ball from Santner that took a fatal edge. Santner tasted another success in the same over, by getting rid of Ravindra Jadeja (6) to finish with figures of 3/51.
Saha seemed to be continuing from his valiant unbeaten 54-run opening innings knock as he played a polished innings.
In the morning, the visitors’ overnight batsmen put up a gritty fight to cut India’s lead to 112 runs.
Comeback man Jeetan Patel (47; 47b, 9×4) and wicketkeeper B.J. Watling (25) stitched together a 60-run stand for the eighth wicket after resuming at the overnight score of 128/7.
Patel, who got his highest Test score, luckily survived in the day’s 12th over when a straight one from Ravindra Jadeja caught him rooted to his crease and plumb in front. Patel, who had started the long walk back towards the hut, was called back by the umpire after replays showed the left-arm spinner had overstepped.
Patel though failed to capitalise on the “life” provided, falling in the next over to Ravichandran Ashwin.
Mohammed Shami (3/46) then removed Watling and Neil Wagner, as the tourists’ innings came to an end 37 minutes before lunch. Bhuvneshwar Kumar (5/48) was the most successful Indian bowler.