Hyderabad: Harbhajan Singh extended his fairytale run with bat to help India take a significant lead over New Zealand and provide the platform for the hosts to push for victory in the the second cricket Test here on Sunday.
Harbhajan smashed the Kiwi bowlers to smithereens during his swashbuckling unbeaten knock of 85 off just 82 deliveries, and his unbroken 69-run last-wicket partnership with S Sreesanth helped India finish the day at a commanding 436 for nine, thereby enjoying a lead of 86 runs.
Harbhajan's knock was laced with seven boundaries and five massive sixes. Such was his onslaught that India racked up 113 runs in the final session.
Earlier, a fluent half-century by VVS Laxman characterized India's display in the first two sessions, but it was Harbhajan's knock lower down the order that swung the pendulum in India's favour.
After a century and a fifty in the first Test at Motera and his sterling display with ball on the second morning here, the 'Turbunator' kick-started his innings with a couple of power-packed shots to the fence. The feisty off-spinner then pulled Brent Arnel for a massive six over deep square-leg to signal his intentions.
But his best moment came when he launched into Kiwi skipper Daniel Vettori, after rain interrupted the match for 18 minutes.
Vettori had taken four wickets by then, including the one of Sachin Tendulkar, but Harbhajan was unfazed. He lofted Vettori over long-on for a massive six and then, in a repeat of his earlier shot, sashayed down the ground to score the maximum again.
The lusty hitting continued unabashed as the 50-run partnership between the two came up in double quick time, of which Sreesanth's contribution was a mere 10. Long-on turned out to be Harbhajan's favoured area as the Jalandhar man greeted Chris Martin with a massive six over that region. He treated Arnel in a similar fashion hitting him for a four and a six on the on-side.
Earlier, resuming at an overnight 178 for the loss of two wickets, Laxman and Dravid survived a testing morning session after Vettori removed Sachin Tendular early.
Laxman was elegance personified from the word go and was a sheer delight to watch, especially in the session between lunch and tea. The stylish Hyderabadi began the session after tea with an on-drive off Arnel before gliding the bowler towards the third man for another four.
A flurry of boundaries followed moments later. Using his wrist, Laxman caressed Arnel through the on-side and then swept Vettori over midwicket for fours. He was not done yet and produced another gem, this time a wristy flick off Arnel.
After Dravid departed for a patient 45 just after lunch, Suresh Raina came in and started on a positive note. He played an off-drive first up and followed that up with another well-timed boundary through the covers.
But, in trying to hoick Vettori, holed out to Marin Guptill. Raina was Vettori's second wicket of the day, to add to his dismissal of Sehwag yesterday evening.
After the hosts' cautious approach in the first session, Dravid started the proceedings after lunch in fine fashion, cutting a short and wide Arnel delivery through cover and mid-off and, in the next over, steered Martin through the gully region for another boundary.
But, just when Dravid was approaching his fifty, Southee had his man.
Earlier, locals here filled the stands in anticipation that Tendulkar would get to the coveted landmark of scoring his 50th Test century, but their hopes were dashed when Vettori had the champion batsman caught at first slip by Ross Taylor in the day's fifth over.
After a 20-minute stay during which he survived a run-out scare and some uneasy moments, Tendulkar rushed down the track without getting to the line of a delivery that turned away after pitching on the leg stump.
The last-minute slog took the edge and Taylor stretched to his right to complete a fine one-handed catch, much to the delight of the visitors.
Local boy Laxman then joined Dravid and the two ensured that India did not let go of the advantage, which Sehwag gave them with his blistering batting on Saturday.
Buoyed by the local support, Laxman started with a bang, punching Martin through the covers for a boundary. Martin then tried to unnerve Laxman with a short one but the Hyderabadi was equal to task and pulled it over midwicket for a boundary forcing Vettori to replace the bowler with Southee.
Dravid, at the other end, was biding his time and waited for the bad deliveries. While there weren't many bad ones on offer, but Dravid was quick to latch on to a bouncer from Southee. The Karnataka batsman rolled his wrists on it and managed to send the ball to the boundary through a packed on-side field that had a short leg, short square-leg and short midwicket.
Laxman, meanwhile, flicked Southee to the boundary and then whipped a Vettori delivery off his pads for same result.