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Shami bowls India to the top of the chart

Wisden India logo Wisden India 03-10-2016
© AP Photo

One of the truisms of cricket at the Eden Gardens is that things happen in the final session. The match could be meandering, it could be building steadily, and then suddenly its complexion changes. On the fourth day of their second Test against New Zealand, India’s bowling attack brought that aspect spectacularly to life, taking out seven wickets in 27.1 overs to demolish the visiting side by 178 runs.

Victory not only gave India a 2-0 series lead with one to play, but also ensured the team would climb back to the top spot in the Test rankings. It was life coming full circle for India. This was the 13th consecutive Test they had gone unbeaten at home – the last defeat coming at the very same Eden Gardens against Alastair Cook’s England in December 2012.

That the two men in the XI who represent Bengal played key roles only added to the sweet smell of victory that a 12,000-strong Monday (October 3) crowd basked in. Wriddhiman Saha had added 58 not out to his first-innings 54 not out to end with the highest aggregate for the match and help set New Zealand a daunting target of 376. Mohammed Shami then broke through the lower order in the final session with reverse swing as New Zealand were bowled out for 197 in 81.1 overs.

This was also the 12th Test on the trot that India had gone without defeat, a run that has brought nine victories and three draws across Sri Lanka, India and the West Indies. Each of the draws – two in the West Indies and one in Bangalore – were massively disrupted by rain.

India beat New Zealand by 178 runs

With the team in that sort of form, Ross Taylor’s New Zealanders were always fighting an uphill battle.

When they came out to bat in the first session faced with a target no team had ever chased at the Eden Gardens, and five and a half sessions left in the match, New Zealand needed their best start in the series. An unflappable Tom Latham and a restrained Martin Guptill provided just that.

The pitch seemed to have lost the fizz it had earlier in the Test, local wisdom suggesting that the residual moisture having dried after three days played a part. The openers negotiated Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Shami much more easily than they had in their first innings, with the result that they were still unseparated at lunch with 55 on the board.

The stand was already the highest for the opening wicket in the series across eight innings, and would have calmed nerves in the New Zealand dressing room somewhat, but in the first over after lunch, R Ashwin went fuller and Guptill couldn’t get his bat around in time to be struck in front without any addition to the score. Guptill, whose 24 was his highest score in four innings in the series so far, had looked better than in his previous outings but couldn’t convert his start once again.

© AP Photo

However, Henry Nicholls set stall to give Latham company, and once again, the New Zealand batsmen brought calm to the middle. Latham was a picture of concentration, planting his foot far down when needed, keeping the stride shorter at other times and reading the bowling well. Nicholls wasn’t as comfortable, but he put the balls that thudded into pads or beat his bat aside to focus on the next one. Just when it seemed like the stand might induce the start of some flutters for India with the score 104 for 1, Ravindra Jadeja provided the breakthrough. A whipping delivery went across Nicholls, took the edge and nestled into Ajinkya Rahane’s hands. When Ashwin got one to drift beautifully and beat Taylor’s bat, you got the sense that it was now a matter of time only.

At tea, New Zealand were 135 for 3. In the space of half an hour, a Shami reverse-swing burst opened the floodgates. The most important strike was made by Ashwin, who once again provided the breakthrough at the start of the session. This time, it was Latham, done in by a tossed up offspinner that turned and took the edge. Latham had made a wonderful 74 and held New Zealand together, but his departure broke the team’s back. Shami crashed through the opening, angling one into Mitchell Santner’s pads that straightened enough to be hitting leg-stump. In the next over, BJ Watling got an absolute beauty, reverse-swinging into him, hitting the pitch and moving away. No batsman would have stood a chance, and off-stump went for a walk.

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Matt Henry and Neil Wagner held out in a ninth-wicket stand that took up 52 balls, but Jadeja won the battle of patience, Henry driving straight to Virat Kohli at short cover for a sharp catch. Shami fittingly hammered the final nail, ending the last-wicket resistance with the second new ball just when people had begun to wonder if New Zealand could, after all, take it to the final day. Each of Shami, Ashwin and Jadeja had three wickets, with Bhuvneshwar getting one to make it a team bowling effort.

In the morning, India’s innings lasted an hour into the fourth day, enough for Saha to complete his second unbeaten half-century of the match. The wicketkeeper-batsman had made a key difference in pushing India’s first-innings total higher, and this time around, he and Bhuvneshwar hung around as the ninth-wicket pair stretched the total past 250. Trent Boult and Wagner finished the innings off, but by then India had 263 on the board, enough to set New Zealand a target that they couldn’t realistically get to.

They might have hoped to take the match into the final day, but an inspired India and a vocal Eden were not to be denied.

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