BLACKCAPS coach Andy Moles has claimed a moral victory regardless of whether the second cricket test against India climaxes in unlikely success for his players at McLean Park today.
A draw seems a certainty considering India were only two wickets down in their second innings when play was to resume with the tourists on 252 for two and needing 62 before they start to set New Zealand a target.
Patient century maker Gautam Gambhir (102) and Sachin Tendulkar (58) are already well-established while India also have the supposed security of VVS Laxman and Yuvraj Singh to help stifle any prospect of New Zealand running through their batting line-up for a second time.
Moles was philosophical at close of play last night after watching his bowler's toil earnestly for the reward of just one wicket -- Rahul Dravid for 62.
Gambhir, Dravid and Tendulkar provided a master class in batting to save a test but even if a stalemate ensues Moles felt New Zealand had made considerable progress since their 10-wicket capitulation at Hamilton in the series opener.
"Five or six days ago we were told we were out of our depth," said Moles.
Dejected after India won at Seddon Park with more than a day to spare, Moles said his players were now brimming with confidence despite yesterday's tough day in the the field -- and the prospect of more leather chasing today.
"I think we've had an excellent test match," he said, citing New Zealand's recovery from 23 for three on the opening mor ning.
A record 271-run partnership between centurions Ross Taylor and Jesse Ryder and a hundred by Brendon McCullum guided New Zealand to 619 for nine declared before India were bundled out for 305 on Saturday.
Enforcing the follow on has not panned out as hoped but as Moles noted: "There's still only one team turning up (today) that can win the test match -- it's not often we've been in that position."
Moles said New Zealand's resurgence was a positive sign ahead of the third and final test at Wellington's Basin Reserve from Friday.
"The Indians will know we're a better side than we were when we came to Napier," he said.
"There's exceptional confidence in our dressing room at the moment. I think the way the Indians played (yesterday) shows more respect for New Zealand.
"There's been some loose cricket from India and then we saw some very, very good batting from some very, very good players -- and more application than we've seen at other times of the test series.
"We feel the opposition realise they don't just have to turn up and win.
"Hopefully we'll go to Wellington with a win under our belt and if we don't we know we can s core runs and bowl India out."
Any hope New Zealand had of emulating India's four-day triumph in Hamilton was slowly but surely snuffed out by Gambhir, the left handed opener who proved equal to the seven bowlers New Zealand captain Daniel Vettori rotated during three frustrating sessions yesterday.
The 27-year-old from Delhi was guilty of poor shot selection when dismissed for 16 on Saturday but he barely played in the air yesterday while painstakingly constructing his fifth test hundred.
Gambhir needed 124 deliveries to reach fifty and finally reached triple figures from 265 balls with his 14th boundary.
"Hats off to Gautam for being there at the end of the day," Dravid enthused.
"He showed a lot of character and he'll learn a lot from a day like this in test cricket."
Gambhir is hardly a novice, however. He is playing his 24th test and averages a remarkable 87 per innings since the first test against Australia on the subcontinent last October.
His last six test innings have produced scores of 179 and 97 against England at Mohali, 72 and 30 not out in Hamilton plus 16 and his unbeaten century.
When he made 56 he became the third fastest Indian cricketer to 2000 test runs -- no mean feat considering batsmen the class of Virender Sehwag and Dravid were quicker.