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India tighten grip on first Test against New Zealand

 HYDERABAD, Aug 24 (IANS): India tightened their grip on the first Test as New Zealand were struggling at 106 for five in the first innings, still needing 133 runs to avoid the follow-on, after the second day's play in the first Test at the Rajiv Gandhi International Cricket Stadium, Uppal, here Friday.

 Devastating spells by offie Ravichandran Ashwin (3-30) and left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha (2-35) left the Kiwis struggling on a day, which was completely dominated by India.

Earlier, India's innings folded at 438 shortly before the tea session. Cheteshwar Pujara scored 159 while skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni scored 73.

Replying to India's huge total, Brendon McCullum (22) began the innings in style, hitting Zaheer Khan's first delivery for a boundary through covers.

McCullum looked in good touch hitting Khan for two boundaries on the leg in the seventh over of the inning. But the change of bowling in the very next over paid off for India as McCullum tried to clear Ojha over cover but was held cleanly by Virat Kohli.

Ashwin, who earlier excelled with the bat hitting 37 off 54, had a dream start to his spell, claiming opening batsman Martin Guptill (2) in the very first ball. The opener inside edged and was cleanly taken by Kohli at backward short leg and the visitors were left reeling at 29 for two.

The India spinners started mounting pressure from both ends. Ashwin dealt another blow in his second over, claiming Ross Taylor (2). The New Zealand captain tried to tuck away a ball which spinned and Kohli took a good low catch at backward short leg.

The Indians were convinced but umpires Steve Davis and Ian Gould referred it to the third umpire, who after a few TV replays declared Taylor out.

The visitors slumped to 35 for three when Daniel Flynn joined Williamson to steer the team. The two tried to rebuild the innings but Flynn did not last as Ashwin had him leg before wicket while he tried to sweep, a shot which had yielded him two boundaries in the previous over by Ojha.

New Zealand were in dire straits at 55 for four and could have been in further trouble if Virender Sehwag at the first slip had attempted to hold on to an outside edge by Williamson off Ashwin.

Williamson then with James Franklin tried to rescue the team. The right hand and left hand combination added 44 runs for the fifth wicket, the longest partnership of the New Zealand team so far.

Local boy Ojha gave another key breakthrough when he had Williamson caught by Sehwag at the first slip. Franklin was fighting the lonely battle with 31 not out.

Earlier, riding on a fine 159 by Cheteshwar Pujara, India ended their first innings at 438 shortly before the tea session.

Resuming the day at 307 for five, India added 131 runs in the first two sessions of the day before their innings folded up. The hosts started the day under overcast conditions and both the batsmen helped India build the innings and push ahead in the first session against the Kiwis.

Overnight batsmen Pujara and skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni (73) played it safely in the first session when India extended their lead by 64 runs without loss to get to 371 for five at lunch.

Pujara and Dhoni denied New Zealand any success. The pair kept the scoreboard ticking with some big shots, though regularly operating in a lower gear.

The Kiwi bowlers tried probing the Indians, however proving unsuccessful.Pujara continued with his good form from Thursday, and the only chance New Zealand had to dislodge him, came when he was slow to respond to Dhoni's call for a single. Brendon McCullum at short cover faltered, and Pujara, batting at 133, managed to scamper back to the crease.

Pujara crossed the 150-run mark as he reached 151 before lunch. But the young batsman was dismissed shortly after the resumption of play as he tried to hit out Jeetan Patel and James Franklin took an easy catch at mid-on.

Dhoni, who added 127 runs with Pujara, also departed soon, leaving the tail to fight on. Ashwin struck a quick-fire 37 off 54 balls but didn't get much support from the other end.

The start of the match was delayed by 25 minutes as the ground staff was asked to pull on the covers in anticipation of a rain shower which never came.

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