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New Zealand succumb to Ashwin’s guiles again

Wisden India logo Wisden India 11-10-2016

The fourth day of the third Test in Indore panned out in predictable fashion, but not many would have expected New Zealand to fold without a hint of a challenge by the end of it.

New Zealand lost nine wickets in the final session in abject fashion as R Ashwin and Cheteshwar Pujara starred on a perfect day, helping India complete a 3-0 sweep with a massive 321-run win at the Holkar Stadium. It was the fourth time India have whitewashed an opponent at home in a series of at least three matches.

After Pujara made a well-paced, unbeaten 101 off 148 balls to set up India’s second-innings declaration at 216 for 3, setting New Zealand an improbable 475 for victory, Ashwin’s 21st five-wicket haul spun a web to bowl the visitors out for 153 in just 44.5 overs. It was a rather uncharacteristic display, given the way they’ve played in the series.

Full scorecard: India vs New Zealand, 3rd Test

There was a bit of a surprise in Pujara leading India’s quick dash with the bat, but none whatsoever with who led the charge with the ball. The wicket-machine named Ashwin ended with 7 for 59 – his best bowling figures ever – to go with his first-innings performance of 6 for 81.

The only practical option for New Zealand once India set them the mammoth target was to bat for a draw. For that, they would have needed a repeat of the hundred-plus opening partnership between Tom Latham and Martin Guptill in the first innings.

Umesh Yadav ensured that wouldn’t happen, trapping Latham leg before in the second over. The early strike paved the way for India’s spinners to wreak havoc after tea.

New Zealand’s only other realistic hope was Kane Williamson. The captain seemed to have a plan against Ashwin, who had got him out in all his three previous bats this series.

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All three dismissals occurred when Williamson tried to cut the offspinner off the back foot against the turn. Ashwin went for the same strategy again and left the point area vacant.

Williamson responded by flicking through the leg-side for three boundaries but Ashwin had the last laugh again, trapping him leg before with one that turned big. Williamson had shuffled across a long way in attempting to flick, walking into the trap.

The rest was only a matter of time. Ross Taylor looked to attack his way out of trouble and hit Ashwin for four fours and a six, but the shots were more out of insecurity than anything else. Ashwin ended the little challenge, going through Taylor’s big swipe with another one that turned a mile. Two overs later, Ashwin cleaned up Luke Ronchi for his third wicket.

Ravindra Jadeja, who saw Ajinkya Rahane drop Guptill earlier off his bowling, was perhaps feeling a bit left out and decided to get into the act. In the space of five balls, he lured Jimmy Neesham into a lazy flick to short mid-wicket and then had Guptill plumb in front.

The tail had little chance and folded without much resistance as New Zealand went from 80 for 2 to 153 all out. Fittingly, Ashwin ended the game and the series with the wicket of Trent Boult, caught and bowled.

The first half of the day belonged to Pujara. There have been numerous question marks over his scoring rate in recent times but the No. 3 batsman answered them in style, scoring briskly on a typical fourth-day Indian track.

Pujara’s strike-rate was close to 70 but he didn’t have to change his natural style. He scored only nine fours but kept moving through some quick running, nearly matching the likes of Virat Kohli and Rahane during their partnerships. Pujara scored 53 of his runs through singles, apart from six twos.

Pujara’s intent can be summed up in one stat – he didn’t offer a shot to only three of the 148 deliveries he faced. He remained busy throughout, without having to go for rash strokes. The boundaries came through deft steers, late-cuts and paddle-sweeps, but he also stepped out to smack Boult over mid-off without losing his shape. 

The foundation for India’s charge, though, was laid by a quickfire 56-ball 50 from comeback man Gautam Gambhir. Resuming the day on 18 for no loss, M Vijay and Pujara were in consolidation mode before the former was run out to some smart work by Guptill at cover.

India managed only 40 runs from 14 overs in the first hour but Gambhir, who recovered after retiring hurt with a shoulder injury on Monday, gave them the impetus. He was dropped on 13 by BJ Watling off Mitchell Santner and made use of the reprieve, using typically wonderful footwork to tackle the spinners.

He fell soon after reaching his 22nd half-century, lofting Jeetan Patel inside out to extra-cover, but had done his bit in India reaching 127 for 2 at lunch. Pujara then remained the common factor in two more quick stands with the first-innings centurions – 48 with Kohli (17) followed by an unbeaten 58 with Rahane (23*). Pujara took 96 balls for his half-century, but the next 50 came off just 51 balls.

India declared soon after Pujara reached his century by pulling Neesham to the fine-leg fence, leaving it to Ashwin to do his thing again.

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