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Ashwin wears down New Zealand resistance

Wisden India logo Wisden India 10-10-2016

Over the last two seasons, the young Indian side has been quite used to rolling teams over at home. On Monday (October 10), they showed that they can also play the waiting game with equal success.

Martin Guptill (72) and Tom Latham (53) added 118 for New Zealand’s opening wicket but India fought back to bowl the visitors out for 299. Jimmy Neesham too made 71 batting at No. 6 but a collapse in the middle overs where New Zealand went from 118 for no loss to 148 for 5 hurt them badly on day three of the third Test at the Holkar Stadium.

At the forefront of India’s fightback was, unsurprisingly, R Ashwin. The offspinner bagged 6 for 81 – his 20th five-wicket haul in just 39 matches – apart from having a hand in two run-outs.

Having been on the field for 90.2 overs, India expectedly decided against enforcing the follow-on. The hosts extended their overall lead to 276 without losing a wicket by reaching 18 without loss, though Gautam Gambhir was forced to retire hurt with a shoulder injury.

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Gambhir had been off the field for most part of the day after landing awkwardly on his right shoulder while fielding, and hurt the same part when he dived while running between the wickets. At stumps, M Vijay (11) and Cheteshwar Pujara (1) were in the middle.

There was a bit of turn off the surface but it certainly wasn’t alarming. It was one of the best batting conditions New Zealand have had in the series, and their openers made good use.

While Latham continued his impressive run and brought up his third half-century of the series, Guptill put aside his poor run and looked in control.

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New Zealand would had entertained hopes of getting close to India’s 557 for 5 declared when the two were cruising, but the hosts needed just one wicket to change things.

That breakthrough came from the most predictable source – Ashwin. Bowling from wide of the crease, the offspinner created an angle that lured Latham into flicking across, and he gleefully accepted the return catch off the leading edge.

New Zealand were still at a fairly comfortable 125 for 1 at lunch, with the ever-dependable Kane Williamson partnering Guptill.

Ashwin, though, triggered a remarkable collapse and consumed Williamson, Ross Taylor and Luke Ronchi, apart from playing a part in Guptill’s run-out. In the space of just four overs from Ashwin, New Zealand completely lost their way and slipped from 134 for 1 to 148 for 5.

The key wicket was Williamson’s, Ashwin bagging him for the third time in three battles this series with one that kicked up off a length. The New Zealand captain shaped to cut, but ended up chopping it on to the stumps, just like he did in the first innings in Kanpur.

A procession followed, with the combo of Ashwin and Ajinkya Rahane pairing to send back Taylor and Ronchi for ducks. Taylor played for turn and edged a straighter one to slip, Ronchi did the same after being deceived by one that drifted away.

Between the two dismissals, Ashwin used his finger to run out Guptill too. Ronchi smashed one straight back, only for the ball to ricochet off Ashwin’s fingers and catch Guptill short. It was an unfortunate end to a knock that promised a lot more. 

New Zealand were in danger of being run over but Neesham, on his comeback Test after an injury layoff, arrested the slide with a couple of half-century partnerships. He first added 53 with BJ Watling and then put on 52 with Mitchell Santner.

Both Watling and Santner were undone by Jadeja either side of tea but Neesham added some useful runs, extending New Zealand’s total to respectable levels. He wasn’t completely comfortable but was willing to take on the spinners, regularly hitting Ashwin against the turn with swipes and sweeps.

The left-hand batsman was fortunate when Cheteshwar Pujara dropped him at long-on when on 53, but his luck ran out when he was incorrectly given leg before by Kumar Dharmasena. Neesham was rapped on the back pad when he tried to sweep Ashwin, but the impact was outside off with the ball still turning away.

Ashwin then produced a repeat of Guptill’s run-out to catch Jeetan Patel short, bringing a swift end to the innings.

Things were a lot different in the morning session. Guptill, under pressure after a string of failures, led the way with a well-compiled half-century, with Latham happy to play his part.

Mohammed Shami should have had both of them early in the day but was let down by his fielders. Rahane put down Guptill at gully when the batsman was on 21, while Jadeja dropped a tough chance off Latham at short midwicket a few overs later.

Those two chances aside, both batsmen were largely solid. They were set by the time the spinners came on – after ten overs into the day – and began to open up. Guptill picked the length well, rocking back to pull and also driving powerfully through the off-side. The shot of the day was his extended off-drive off Jadeja that landed in the first tier behind long-off.

Meanwhile, Latham was typically composed and silently brought up his fifty. He was lucky to survive when he swept Jadeja onto his boot and was caught at slip, but Bruce Oxenford, the umpire, didn’t spot the under-edge. However, Ashwin ensured that Latham would survive just one more ball.

The game was very different from there on.

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