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Harbhajan counter attack provides crucial lead for hosts

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Harbhajan Singh Batting Hyderabad PhotoHarbhajan Singh unleashed one of the best counter attacks in Test Cricket as India finished Day 3 at the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium in Hyderabad with a sizeable first innings lead of 86. The best part is that India still has a wicket remaining with the pair of Harbhajan Singh and Sreesanth still unbeaten by Stumps. Harbhajan is inching towards his second Test Century having blasted 85 from 82 balls with 7 fours and 5 sixes. His knock came at a time when India was in a position to only get a slender lead which would have kept the doors open for a possible Kiwi victory. Now the match is heavily tilted in India’s favour as the Kiwis would have to bat under immense pressure on the fourth day to try and get enough runs on the board to feel safe for a draw!

India was nicely set up at 178 for 2 when play started this morning but with runs not coming at all, the pressure mounted on Sachin Tendulkar who succumbed to it by playing a poor shot. Tendulkar added just two more runs to his overnight score of 13 and to break the shackles had charged down the track to try and hoist Vettori over long on but only to get a leading edge which was caught one handed by Ross Taylor at slip.

The hosts then slowly progressed towards 237 for 3 in 79 overs for by Lunch with only VVS Laxman showing some intent of keeping the scoreboard moving while Dravid was preoccupied in survival alone. Just the 59 runs were scored in as many as 30 overs as the Kiwis bowled and fielded with plenty of heart!

After Lunch, the second new ball was taken by the Black Caps and Tim Southee produced a low inswinger which caught Rahul Dravid in the crease for an lbw. By then, it was a smooth partnership of 75 for the 4th wicket. Dravid made a patient 45 from 144 balls with 5 fours. Suresh Raina entered the middle to bring some fresh air in the Indian innings with some glorious drives. But the left hander committed hara-kiri when he made up his mind well before to hoist Vettori for a big one over long on but only to give a skier to Guptill at deep mid wicket to throw his wicket away after a 30-ball 20. India went to Tea at 323 for 5 in 104 overs with VVS Laxman batting beautifully on 74.

The post Tea session began on a disastrous note for the homeside as Laxman (74 from 160 balls with 11 fours) got a terrific indipper from Chris Martin which hit his knee roll plumb infront in the 105th over. It was the very first ball that Laxman had faced after the break. The very next over, MS Dhoni (14 from 21 balls) failed to deliver with the bat again as he spooned an uppish drive off Vettori to short covers to leave India at 336 for 7!

Zaheer Khan, the next man in decided to play his shots and ended up top edging a hook off Southee to square fine leg with India leading by just the five runs. Pragyan Ojha looked good in defence to promise support for Harbhajan but ran himself out while trying to give the strike with a quick single.

India had a lead of 17 runs when Sreesanth joined Harbhajan who was nearing a half century. Despite getting past the 50 and a rain break, Harbhajan continued to mix defence with the big shots and Sreesanth at the other end gave him enough confidence to keep on carrying sensibly with proper shot selection. Sreesanth took plenty of blows on his body from the short pitch stuff but he survived while getting a couple of boundaries in his 14* from 47 balls. Sreesanth helped Harbhajan Singh to stitch an unbroken 69 runs for the last wicket. For the Kiwis, Vettori toiled hard for his 45-6-123-4 while Southee was impressive with his 28-6-95-3.

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