Ahmedabad:New Zealand ended the fourth day dreaming of a famous win in Ahmedabad after India's vaunted batting proved no match to an inspired Chris Martin, whose ninth five-wicket haul left the home side effectively at 110 for 6.
The mayhem in Motera in the second half of the day was in complete contrast to the morning session when Kane Williamson's debut Test century steered New Zealand past 400 and the match looked set to meander to a dull draw.
Instead, India are looking to their chief firefighter, VVS Laxman, to put in a third consecutive match-turning second-innings effort.
India seemed to have wrested a slim advantage after prising out the final five New Zealand wickets for 42. With Hamish Bennett injured and Jesse Ryder nursing a calf strain, New Zealand's man-for-all-occasions Daniel Vettori would have to share the new ball with Martin, and pundits predicted that a typical Virender Sehwag innings could leave India hoping to force a result.
What unfolded couldn't have been more different. Gautam Gambhir made his third successive second-innings duck, inside-edging Martin to the keeper. On a pitch which had till then seemed comatose, Martin got the ball to jag in appreciably, forcing the batsmen to play cautiously.
New Zealand's fielding had been abysmal in the first innings, dropping plenty of chances, but substitute Martin Guptill's sublime bit of fielding sent back dangerman Sehwag.
Rahul Dravid punched the ball towards mid-off, where Guptill threw himself to his left to cut it off, causing confusion among the batsmen. Dravid stopped and sent Sehwag back after taking several paces down the track, and Guptill's reverse-flick while still on his knees was accurate enough for the bowler to run out the stranded Sehwag.
It got even better for New Zealand as a tentative Dravid poked at a ball outside off from Martin that held its line to feather it to the keeper. India went in to tea at 2 for 3, but were comforted on seeing the man in form, Sachin Tendulkar, pick off ten runs off a Martin over soon after the break.
That proved only a temporary relief as yet another Martin indipper took Tendulkar's inside-edge on its way to the legstump. Martin greeted new man Suresh Raina with a surprise bouncer, and when slipped in a fuller delivery next over, Raina was caught on the crease and nicked a drive to slip. India were 15 for 5, and it could have been worse when Dhoni was struck high on the pads three balls later by yet another incutter.
Laxman and Dhoni then set about reviving the Indian innings, though there were no easy runs on offer from the accurate New Zealand spin pair of Vettori and Patel.
They eased the ball around for singles, and threw in the odd boundary, and when they had blunted the bowling for 24 overs, New Zealand's hopes started to recede. Martin wasn't done for the day, though, and an effort-ball from him produced some extra bounce and Dhoni chopped the ball onto the stumps. Harbhajan came out and attempted the big shots, pulling some off and missing others, but manage to remain unbeaten with Laxman at stumps.
Only one team can win the match now, and fancied India would have expected themselves to be that team. First, they hadn't anticipated New Zealand's spirited batting performance.
Williamson supported by his captain Vettori, who made a characteristically gritty innings, added 86 in the morning before Williamson fell on the final over before lunch with New Zealand well past 400.
India's chances in the session before that late breakthrough came in the first four overs: a couple of lbw appeals against Vettori and a Williamson nick just short of third slip.
For the next 100 minutes, it was all New Zealand. Williamson hit a couple of boundaries off Zaheer - a pull behind square and a glance to fine leg three balls later - to move from 93 to 101 and become the eighth New Zealander to make a hundred in his first Test. There were no extravagant theatrics that you might expect from a 20-year-old who had played a fine innings to rescue his team from a tight spot, just a big grin and a wave of the bat towards the dressing room.
Vettori settled down after his initial jitters, and went on to pass 4000 Test runs, again showcasing how much his batting has developed in the past few years.
India's bowlers were flat in the morning and it didn't help that Zaheer, who has been MS Dhoni's go-to bowler, didn't appear to be 100% fit, rarely hitting even 130kmh. India wheedled out the last four New Zealand wickets in the hour and a half after lunch but could scarcely have imagined the nightmare to follow.