Ahmedabad:Harbhajan Singh realised every bowler's dream of making a Test hundred and VVS Laxman burnished his already lustrous second-innings record to steer India to safety on the final day of the first Test. Chris Martin and New Zealand couldn't replicate the venom with which they had bowled on Sunday and their chances of victory vanished with the 163-run association between Harbhajan and Laxman.
The injuries to Hamish Bennett and Jesse Ryder didn't help New Zealand either. A serious push for victory against the world's No. 1 side appeared difficult to sustain once Ross Taylor and Brendon McCullum, with 12 overs of international experience between them, were given the ball in the morning.
In his previous two Tests, Laxman had turned in contrasting match-winning efforts on the final day. In Ahmedabad, he showed his match-saving skills. It was hard to guess from his unperturbed demeanour and batting that India were battling for survival, and he repeatedly worked the spinners towards sweeper cover and deep point to make his runs. His first violent shot was a sweep that nearly carried to the midwicket boundary to bring up his half-century.
Harbhajan was less secure than the cool and collected Laxman. He nearly committed hara-kiri in the third over of the day with an ill-judged call for a single after punching the ball to mid-off. Daniel Vettori's throw missed the stumps with Harbhajan yards out. Harbhajan also offered half-chances to slip and forward short leg but, despite the shakiness, he never put away his natural attacking strokes. He outscored Laxman with his maverick batting: a powerful sweep against the turn in the air of Vettori , a ferocious down-the-line forehand off Martin, and - riskiest of all - a reverse-paddle off Jeetan Patel.
By lunch, India's lead had ballooned to 192, and much of the interest in the second session centred on whether the two batsmen could make their hundreds. Both carried on as they had in the morning: Laxman made unflustered progress with Harbhajan pulling off some enterprising strokes. New Zealand seemed resigned to a draw, with Vettori at one stage imitating Harbhajan's bird-like flourish during his run-up.
With the match meandering and Laxman in his 90s, two umpiring mistakes brought the UDRS, and its absence in this series, back into focus. Steve Davis missed a huge inside-edge from Laxman to give him lbw. Laxman was horrified, a reaction that was repeated next ball by Zaheer Khan, when Davis missed another nick to leave Vettori on a hat-trick. Davis' concentration had clearly slipped and he called 'over' when only five deliveries had been bowled.
There was still the matter of Harbhajan's hundred. He had reached his half-century with a Laxman-like flick and he brought up three figures with a Sehwag-like six, carving the ball over extra cover to move from 95 to 101. Cue generous applause from the dressing-room, and Harbhajan celebrated with a message to his close friend Sachin Tendulkar - imitating the master's signature crouch.
With MS Dhoni having no intention of declaration, Harbhajan continued to make merry, smashing Patel over long-off for six. He was finally dismissed mis-hitting a high full toss from Taylor, and India ended on 266 when Sreesanth feathered a Taylor delivery to the keeper.
There was little at stake in the match when New Zealand came out to bat, but questions over Tim McIntosh's suitability will return after he missed a Zaheer incutter to complete a pair. After a desultory bunch of overs that included Dhoni bowling, the match was called off with New Zealand having reached 22 for 1.
New Zealand started the day dreaming of a win, but though they couldn't break Motera's jinx of no team chasing down a target, they have proved to India that they are no pushovers. How New Zealand would take 20 wickets against the mighty Indians was the big question before the series; they have shown they can, even when they are one frontline bowler short, and their batting has shown the backbone that was sorely missing during the drubbing in Bangladesh last month. The match may be a draw, but there's no doubt which team will be happier with their performance in the game.