An eerie sense of déjà vu descended on University Oval as New Zealand bowlers kicked at the turf and watched their deliveries race to the boundary yesterday.
Just nine months earlier, a similarly dead Dunedin pitch and five hours of stubborn resistance from England batting bunny Steven Finn foiled their push for victory after a dominant opening two days.
New Zealand remain heavy favourites entering the final day of the first test against West Indies today, with the tourists just 47 runs ahead and four wickets standing in their follow-on. But with record-breaker Darren Bravo (210 not out) in full flight, the weary hosts entering their seventh consecutive session in the field and afternoon showers threatening, it's not game over yet with the West Indies 443-6. Safety will be theirs if they bat till tea.
''The boys are still in pretty good spirits. On the scoreboard we still are on top and test cricket's not an easy game. I'm in my third test and I'm finding that out already,'' said young legspinner Ish Sodhi, who wheeled down 41 overs in the second innings to take 2-130.
The New Zealand team desperately need this victory for their mental states. Nine winless tests in 2013, including those from dominant positions at Dunedin, Auckland and Lord's, only reinforced the theory about this team being promising but lacking the killer punch as they languish eighth in the world.
It showed again yesterday when they dropped three catches, including Bravo on 82 when Neil Wagner couldn't grab a chest-high return chance.
And the tourists suddenly have a spring in their legs, with skipper Darren Sammy defying a gluteal injury to reach 40 not out at stumps. Bravo, whose cousin is master batsman Brian Lara, became the seventh test cricketer to score a double-century with his side following on. Interestingly, the other six all helped their sides avoid defeat, the most recent VVS Laxman against Australia in 2001 when India pulled off a miracle victory.
At stumps the left-handed Trinidadian, often mirroring the style of his flamboyant cousin, had batted over nine hours and faced 404 balls for his fifth test century and highest test score, beating his 195 against Bangladesh.
Earlier as the morning sun shone and temperatures reached the mid-20s, it looked a four-day victory for New Zealand.
Tim Southee removed Marlon Samuels caught and bowled for his fifth wicket of the match then Wagner trapped dangerman Shivnarine Chanderpaul lbw for one with a beauty that angled in and was clipping leg stump.
At 185-4, the tourists trailed by over 200 and with Chanderpaul gone and the new ball around thentsGnnte corner it seemed elementary.
The wobbles began when captain Brendon McCullum pounced and threw to the wrong end with Bravo well short on 76. Then Wagner shelled his chance and Narsingh Deonarine, hardly a world-class Noth6, was handed lives on 38 and 41. Southee put down a tough low return chance then McCullum bobbled one that was smashed at his midriff at short cover.
It was a tough day for the skipper who watched his bowlers toil away but struggle to wring any life from the surface, even with the second new ball. He posted four catchers in front of square and hoped for a false shot with the ball holding up.
Then, nursing a bad back already, he launched himself to try and stop one of Bravo's 30 boundaries and smashed into the hoardings. He limped away and required treatment to a rapidly swelling knee. The pain only got worse for his team-mates.
Southee and Trent Boult couldn't weave their first innings magic with the second new ball and will sleep well after bowling 42 and 46 overs respectively in back-to-back innings. The 21-year-old Sodhi looked likely at times on a slowly wearing pitch and bowled some magical deliveries including a googly to skittle Denesh Ramdin.
''The wicket's pretty flat and the boys put in 110 per cent all day and you can't question them on that. There's frustration naturally because the chances didn't go to hand or just landed quite close,'' Sodhi said
- © Fairfax NZ News
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