NAGPUR (Reuters) - Rahul Dravid and Mahendra Singh Dhoni batted with supreme authority on Monday to steer India into a huge lead as New Zealand were left with an uphill task of batting out two days to save the deciding test.
That task became harder after Harbhajan Singh dismissed opener Tim McIntosh to leave the tourists reeling at 24 for one, still needing 349 runs to make India bat again.
"The key in this game, as we saw this morning, is that you have got to make an impact while the ball is hard and new," Dravid told New Cricket channel.
"Tomorrow's morning session is going to be really important. The ball is still hard and if we have a few quick wickets early then we can put a lot of pressure on them."
India declared their first innings at 566 for eight with a lead of 373 after New Zealand's bowlers had picked up three early wickets on day three of the third and final test.
Dravid stood tall with his 31st test hundred while captain Dhoni fell two short of his fifth hundred in tests as they stitched together a 193-run partnership for the sixth wicket.
The right-handed Dravid (191) got to the coveted century mark with a flicked two, 10 minutes before lunch at the Vidarbha Cricket Association Stadium.
The 37-year old missed his double hundred when he holed out to Martin Guptill at long-off trying to hit part-time offspinner Kane Williamson out of the ground.
Dhoni (98), who had been short of runs heading into the match, joined Dravid at the crease after the hosts had lost Sachin Tendulkar, Vangipurappu Laxman and Suresh Raina cheaply.
The pin-up boy of Indian cricket then stepped on the pedal with some lusty hits to demoralise the New Zealand bowlers. He hit 12 boundaries and a six in his knock, before offering a tame return catch to Daniel Vettori.
"It was really important from the team's perspective and it helped me as well. He (Dhoni) took the pressure away from me by scoring quickly," Dravid said about Dhoni's innings.
"We had just lost three wickets in the morning and it was nice to see him play positively."
The tourists had a couple of half chances in the day but the fielders failed to cling on, making it more difficult for the under-assault bowlers.
Tendulkar (61) could add just four runs to his overnight score before he edged debutant Andy McKay to wicketkeeper Gareth Hopkins to become the left-arm seamer's first test wicket.
Laxman followed soon after as Chris Martin bowled a big inswinger to breach his defence while New Zealand captain Vettori dismissed Raina through a bat-pad catch at silly mid-on.
The three-test series is tied at 0-0 after two draws.