Wellington:It was a bright sunny day in Wellington, the conditions remaining more or less calm. But the weather was no indication of the proceedings in store. As Lady Luck's mood swung in favour of both the teams several times, India battled to a respectable first-innings total of 375 for 9 at stumps on the opening day of the third and final Test against New Zealand.
New Zealand's bowlers worked hard to try and set up victory to level the series, but half centuries from captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Harbhajan Singh and Sachin Tendulkar helped India stage a brilliant comeback.
Captain Daniel Vettori did not hesitate to take a chance in deciding to field first on the batting-friendly Basin Reserve wicket. There were times when it looked like the gamble might yield the desired results as India slumped to 204-6 soon after tea. But Daniel's design did not pay off as Dhoni and Harbhajan led the struggle to a healthy score.
Moreover, the tailenders threw a spanner in the works, doing everything possible to quash the Kiwi attack and the visitors recovered in time to add 185 runs for the loss of four wickets in the second session.
New Zealand's opening bowler Chris Martin tried hard throughout the day to finish as the hosts' most successful bowler with figures of 3-95 from 24 overs. Tim Southee and Iain O'Brien took two wickets each.
India got off to a vibrant start through a flying 48 from Virender Sehwag. He and partner Gautam Gambhir put on 73 runs in the first 15 overs. Sehwag hit seven fours and a six from 51 balls in a typically belligerent innings from the opener.
The replacement of Martin by James Franklin at the other end in the next over also paid off immediately, with Gambhir trapped lbw for 23 on the final ball of the new bowler's opening over.
Tendulkar's arrival made the going look easy for the Indians, as the run machine seemed all set to dismantle the attack. But O'Brien dismissed Sehwag in his second over, tempting the batsman to take a short ball outside the off stump, with wicketkeeper Brendon McCullum taking an easy catch.
The master blaster put on 90 runs with Rahul Dravid for the third wicket before his dismissal for 62. His departure in the 42nd over set off a mini-collapse with VVS Laxman and Yuvraj Singh following immediately. Four wickets fell for the addition of 39 runs as India slipped from 165-2 to 204-6 shortly after tea.
Tendulkar passed 50 for the 95th time in Tests in his innings, hitting 11 fours, including his trademark drives and cuts, bringing up his half century with an exquisitely timed square cut off O'Brien after lunch in the 38th over.
New Zealand struck again soon after tea, with Martin trapping Rahul Dravid as the batsman mistimed a pull shot to Franklin at square leg to leave the visitors looking wobbly at 204-6.
Martin was unlucky 24 runs later when Martin Guptill failed to take a catch, though a difficult one, off Martin's bowling when Harbhajan was on 14. The Turbanator made the Black Caps pay, finishing with the second highest score of 60 off 78 balls.
Dhoni, returning from a back injury that kept him out of the second Test, scored a battling 52 and put on 79 runs with Harbhajan before top-edging an attempted pull shot to O'Brien at fine leg.
Zaheer Khan added to New Zealand's frustration, hitting a swift 33 from 23 balls. He got a boundary off each of the first four balls of an O'Brien over before falling on the sixth, giving a catch to McCullum. Munaf Patel replaced him to join Ishant Sharma for the last few overs of the day. Both managed to stay on the crease and pocketed some runs to take India to 375/9 at the end of the opening day's play.
India: Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Yuvraj Singh, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (captain and wicketkeeper), Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma, Munaf Patel
New Zealand: Tim McIntosh, Martin Guptill, Daniel Flynn, Ross Taylor, Jesse Ryder, James Franklin, Brendon McCullum (wicketkeeper), Daniel Vettori (captain), Tim Southee, Iain O'Brien, Chris Martin