Unlike limited-over matches, Test match scorelines can be deceptive. The margin of victory, by itself, may not always provide the best indication of the match. Hence, a casual observer may believe it was a wholly one-sided victory for India after seeing the 197-run margin that separated the two teams in the first Test at Kanpur, but that would not quite be a completely correct assumption.
To their credit, New Zealand matched India blow-for-blow on the first two days of the match before the hosts reasserted their supremacy in home conditions from day three onward. There were obviously the big performances – Ravichandran Ashwin’s fifth 10-wicket haul in his Test career, Ravindra Jadeja’s five-for in the first innings and the gritty half-centuries in each innings from Murali Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara.
But as it often happens, India’s secret of winning against a spirited opposition lay in them winning some crucial smaller moments.
Jadeja and Ashwin’s batting
This was a Test match determined by mid-innings collapses. Ultimately, the winner of the Test was the team that recovered better. And both Jadeja and Ashwin found ways to contribute to that as well.
Ashwin came in, right in the middle of the collapse, in the first innings. The dependable Ajinkya Rahane had been dismissed and the score read 209/5. At the other end, he had the probably-not-so-dependable Rohit Sharma for company. A mistake or two and India could even have been in danger of being bowled out for 250.
Thankfully, Ashwin was serene in the face of danger. He got his neat dabs to third man out and with his pristine timing, ensured India made a recovery of sorts, though Sharma threw it away with a misjudged slog when India were on 261/5. Ashwin was dismissed a few overs later but his 40-run contribution was invaluable in the larger scheme of things.
But despite his knock, India could have still folded for a score below 300 if not for Ravindra Jadeja, who shielded No. 11 Umesh Yadav from the strike and stuck some meaty blows in his unbeaten 42 to take India to 318. Promoted up the order in the second innings, Jadeja shut the door firmly on New Zealand’s lingering hopes, combining with Rohit Sharma and slamming three sixes on his way to an unbeaten half-century.
Take out Ashwin and Jadeja’s contributions, with the bat, that is, and the match could have been very different.
The ripper that destroyed Kane Williamson
New Zealand were looking good in their first innings. They had a few near misses but they survived. Tom Latham was ultimately dismissed by Ravichandran Ashwin early on day three, but all eyes rested on Kiwi captain Kane Williamson. The Black Caps skipper had looked like he was playing on a different surface. His footwork was immaculate, he was turning the strike around and he hardly looked troubled. He had reached 75 already and India knew that if he continued to bat in that vein, New Zealand would get very close to India’s first innings score of 318.
And that was when it happened. Ashwin unleashed a delivery that should go into the annals of cricket history. It pitched short and outside off but was tailing in. Williamson went back and was shaping up to play the back-foot cover drive. Except the ball turned at a right angle after pitching and cut him in half to dislodge the middle and leg stump. It was an unplayable delivery and no, it had not come via a crack on the pitch, but through Ashwin’s sheer ability. Williamson gave a little wry smile as he walked off. Even he knew that he could not have done much about that.
Williamson’s dismissal changed the complexion of the game. New Zealand’s spirited fight seemed like it had dissolved after their captain was dismissed in such circumstances. The next six wickets fell for less than 100 runs as India took control of the match.
The Rahane 40 in India’s 2nd innings
Much will rightly be made about Rohit Sharma and Ravindra Jadeja’s half-centuries in India’s second innings, but Ajinkya Rahane should get credit for his 40. When Rahane came out to bat, New Zealand had begun another attempt at dragging the match back. The score read 214/3, the lead a healthy 270. India were in a good position, but they needed to push on and shut New Zealand out of the match completely.
Rahane then saw Pujara being dismissed for 78. In the 49-run partnership that followed with Rohit Sharma, Rahane was the clear aggressor, getting 31 important runs and ensured New Zealand’s hopes were extinguished. His quiet, but useful 40, ensured that the lead touched 333, providing a psychological blow to the Kiwis.
Mohammed Shami's burst of reverse swing
It might have been a match that revolved around the talents of India’s two spin wizards, but Mohammed Shami’s late burst on the final day was much required to prove that even pace can have a say in turning conditions.
As a combative personality, Shami also found the perfect answer to Trent Boult and Neil Wagner, who took five wickets between them in India’s first innings. Boult, especially, bowled brilliantly with the second new ball, dismantling both Wriddhiman Saha and Shami’s stumps on his way to a three-wicket haul.
Shami however showed that he can still make the ball reverse swing at pace as he prised out BJ Watling and Mark Craig in consecutive deliveries. Without doubt, Shami is India’s premier pace bowler and even in a spin-dominated match, he still managed to ensure that he had some say in the proceedings.