Gambhir adds another ton of frustration

Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar bade farewell but Gautam Gambhir preferred to linger as India toyed with New Zealand in the third cricket test at the Basin Reserve.

India relentlessly closed in on a first series victory in New Zealand since 1968, dictating the pace from a position of strength on the third day of the final test.

The lead 1-0 after winning the first test in Hamilton by 10 wickets and drawing the second in Napier.

Although Tendulkar was undeniably the batsman sought for centre stage, it was Gambhir's 167 that dominated as India's first innings lead of 182 bloated to 531.

When bad light stopped play 8.1 overs before the scheduled close India were 349 for five with captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni on 16 alongside Yuvraj Singh who had 15.

Gambhir constructed yet another lengthy innings to defy New Zealand's attack -- but unlike his 137 in Napier -- his second century of the series will not influence the outcome of the game.

India were already in an unassailable position by the time Gambhir took guard yesterday evening but for the second successive test, his stickability has blunted Daniel Vettori and his seam attack.

Gambhir occupied the crease for almost 11 hours at McLean Park to ensure India could force a draw though today he was considerably freer with his strokeplay as he completed his sixth test hundred in 138 deliveries.

Resuming on 28, Gambhir was unruffled in progressing to fifty, his century and then 150 before tea.

His pace slowed over his third fifty -- he stroked just two boundaries -- but his concentration barely wavered until Iain O'Brien's first over with the second new ball had Gambhir struck on the pad in front of middle.

Gambhir's 257-ball knock lasted almost six hours and contained 16 boundaries and two sixes. It included an incredible run of form for the 27-year-old.

Since the October home series against Australia, Gambhir was amassed 1269 runs in eight tests at 84.60. That impressive haul includes a career-best 206 against Australia in Delhi, four other hundreds and five half centuries.

Despite arriving here as a junior member of India's batting unit he departs with the highest aggregate: 445 runs at 89, the product of immense concentration and an array of beautiful strokes often directed through the covers and square of the wicket.

In contrast to the procession of 21 wickets that fell during the first two days of play -- New Zealand had to settle for four today as India's batsmen warmed to their task in blustery, cool conditions.

Vettori took the big names of Dravid and Tendulkar but their dismissals were almost immaterial.

After New Zealand were routed for 197 in 65 overs yesterday they had to scythe through the Indian top order during the morning session.

But when Gambhir and Dravid carried the score from 51 to 170 at lunch -- the last sliver of hope of emerging with a positive outcome was gone.

Dravid's ultra-consistent series ended with a hint of subterfuge when Vettori and Brendon McCullum combined to draw the 36-year-old into a leg-side trap.

On 60, Dravid flicked at a wide delivery McCullum had anticipated and his attempted paddle sweep thudded into the wicketkeeper's midriff before he completed the catch.

The end of Dravid's fourth fifty in five knocks during the series -- and final innings in New Zealand -- snapped a 170-run stand for the second wicket and ushered in Tendulkar, the other batting legend on his last visit here.

Unfortunately Tendulkar's sign off was an anti-climax, a lofted six down the ground from Vettori was his last scoring shot before the spinner exacted revenge by having the 35-year-old nick to a diving Ross Taylor at first slip.

He left nine runs after he was welcomed with a standing ovation.

Once Tendulkar exited, VVS Laxman added 106 for the fourth wicket with Gambhir before the opener's resistance ended.

Laxman followed for 61 two overs later when O'Brien, two for 77, nipped a delivery between bat and pad on to the top of off stump -- New Zealand's brightest spot of an otherwise gloomy day.

The daylight saving time change -- clocks were put back an hour overnight -- impacted as expected while rain is forecast on the series' final day on Tuesday.

NZPA

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