After an impressive fightback with the ball, India pressed home the advantage with the bat on day four of the first Test against New Zealand in Kanpur but it wasn’t easy.
The hosts were in a serious spot of bother at 51/5 in their second innings on Sunday, but half-centuries by Shreyas Iyer and Wriddhiman Saha, along with valuable contributions from Ashwin Ravichandran and Axar Patel, turned the match around.
New Zealand were then set a target of 284 runs and lost the wicket of Will Young early (rather dramatically), with India going to stumps as perhaps the only team with a realistic chance of winning the match on the final day.
Here’s a session-by-session recap of the day:
New Zealand started the day with Tim Southee and Kyle Jamieson bowling in tandem. The right-arm pacers opted for a straight line of attack and kept fielders close in on the leg side, but that allowed Cheteshwar Pujara and Mayank Agarwal to pick runs more freely and gain confidence early on.
Pujara, who has struggled for big scores this year, looked busy at the crease and got 22 runs in quick time. Just then, he suffered a soft dismissal after gloving one down the leg side to the keeper off Jamieson’s bowling.
The next man in was skipper Ajinkya Rahane, and it was another opportunity for him to prove his worth in the side. But as has been the case in recent times, he just didn’t look comfortable at the crease. The right-hander played and missed outside off a couple of times before getting off the mark with his 14th delivery. But with the next ball, he was out LBW to Ajaz Patel.
Rahane’s poor form continued as he was late to pick the length of the ball and simply plonked his front foot to get trapped plumb in front.
Soon after came the high point for New Zealand on the day, thanks to a sensational double-wicket maiden by Tim Southee. The senior pacer picked a five-for in the first innings and was putting in another big effort for his side. And he was finally rewarded with the wickets of Agarwal and Ravindra Jadeja in the same over.
The delivery to Agarwal was a beauty that climbed and took the outside edge to second slip. While Jadeja, who made a crucial contribution with the bat in the first innings, was dismissed off his second delivery and got out LBW for a duck.
New Zealand had all the momentum at that time. India had a lead of just 100 runs, they had lost half their side for 51 runs, and were in all sorts of trouble. However, that’s when Iyer and Ashwin got together at the crease and it was all India on the day after that.
At lunch: India were 84/5 in 32 overs.
In the session: 27 overs, 70 runs, 4 wickets.
Before lunch, Ashwin had come to the crease with a clear plan to counterattack. He played a stylish straight-drive off Southee for four and kept using his feet against the spinners to rotate strike.
Iyer, too, started batting more freely thanks to Ashwin’s aggression after beginning his innings a bit tentatively.
Ashwin and Iyer kept looking for runs even after lunch, with the former playing two classy shots off Southee to take India to the 100-run mark in the second innings. The duo added 52 game-changing runs for the sixth wicket before Ashwin (32 off 62) fell to Jamieson.
New Zealand were still in a decent position at that time. Another strong period with the ball could’ve set the game up for them. But India’s lower order had a lot more in store.
Saha, batting with an open stance because of the issues with his neck, took his time to settle in before hitting William Somerville for a four and a six off consecutive deliveries. Iyer was well set and he too started taking the aerial route. The duo went at around three runs an over in the remainder of the session and guided India to a comfortable position.
In the process, Iyer got to his fifty and became the first Indian man to score a century and a half-century on Test debut. It was another composed, high-class knock from the right-hander, just what his team needed. He fell to Southee for 65 off 125 at the stroke of tea but had played a crucial hand for his team by then.
At tea: India were 167/7 in 60.2 overs.
In the session: 28.2 overs, 83 runs, 2 wickets.
At the start of the final session on day four, India had a lead of 216 runs with Axar having arrived at the crease. Even then, New Zealand could’ve put India in a tight spot by running through the remaining three wickets. But the hosts went on to put up yet another steady partnership.
Saha and Axar were confident in their stand at the start. Axar hit a couple of boundaries and it seemed India would push on to set up the declaration. But what followed was a curious passage of play. Both batters stopped looking for boundaries and for over an hour, the game seemed to move at a snail’s pace.
As far as New Zealand were concerned, there wasn’t much aggression in the strategies used by skipper Kane Williamson. The visitors were put on the back foot by Ashwin’s counterattack and didn’t go on to create many opportunities from there. The standout bowlers for them were Southee and Jamieson, who picked three wickets apiece.
India eventually declared at 234/7 and set New Zealand a target of 284 runs. Saha remained unbeaten on 61 off 126, with Axar not-out on 28 off 67. The duo added 67 runs for the eighth wicket.
The light had faded considerably by the time New Zealand came out to bat, with India using Ashwin and Axar to open the bowling. And it didn’t take long for a dismissal to follow, albeit a bizarre one.
Young, who batted well in the first innings, was struck on the pads by Ashwin by one that scooted and given out. He then opted for a review but was denied as the timer had run out. And to rub salt into his wound, the replay showed that the ball was missing the leg stump.
At stumps, New Zealand were left with 280 runs to get and India with nine wickets. The hosts would’ve been delighted with Young’s wicket but their three lower order partnerships were proof that the pitch didn’t have any real demons in it too once the ball got older. Heading into the final day, India are firmly on top but New Zealand still have some hope of batting out the day.
At stumps: New Zealand were 4/1 in 4 overs.
In the session: 24.4 overs, 71 runs, 1 wicket.