New Zealand’s last-wicket pair holds nerve to deny India in the Kanpur Test; Ashwin reaches milestone
How often has it happened that the scoreboard has become redundant and the light meter readings the only numbers that mattered for an hour of a Test match? On a gloomy Kanpur day and on a dreary Green Park pitch, India and New Zealand managed to play out one of the most riveting drawn Test matches on Monday.
Chasing an improbable target of 284, World Test champions New Zealand had their two players of Indian origin – debutant Rachin Ravindra and No. 11 Ajaz Patel – brave the wicked last-session pitch and three accomplished spinners – hurling absolute darts and spears with the second new ball – for 40 minutes when the umpires finally decided it was too dark to play on. They kept checking the light metre after every over for almost 20 minutes, as the sun played hide and seek through the smattering of cloud.
All those trips with his father to play in Bengaluru every year bore fruit for Ravindra as he managed to keep the potent Indian spinners at bay on their home turf, especially when his team was on the verge of a capitulation following Tom Latham and Kane Williamson’s dogged efforts for much of the day. Ravindra Jadeja (4/40) and Ravichandran Ashwin’s (3/35) herculean effort of bowling almost right through the session was negated much to the agony of the spectators at the venue.
Ravindra and Ajaz’s rear-guard partnership took the sheen off Ashiwn’s moment of going past Harbhajan Singh as India’s third highest wicket-taker for India in Test cricket. New Zealand’s 165/9, after having played out 90 overs in the day, meant the two teams ended up getting four World Test Championship points each from the first Test with one more Test to go in Mumbai later this week.
The pitch virtually had nothing for the batters and even the bowlers, except the excruciating low bounce in the last session. It was ironical that a surface which offered absolutely no fizz through the match could produce such an enthralling finish. Resuming the day on 4/1, opener Latham and night-watchman Will Somerville put the game to sleep in the first session.
A wicketless session and a 76-run stand for the second wicket indicated a slumber on the final day. The match woke up with the first ball of the second session. Umesh Yadav banged one in short from round the wicket only for Somerville to hook it down Shubman Gill’s throat at fine-leg.
The ball started to stay low more often and the Indian spinners Ashwin, Jadeja and Axar Patel’s conventional line and length was masterfully smothered by Latham and Williamson. The two senior-most batters in the New Zealand team got down to playing out a blockathon which resembled AB de Villiers and Hashim Amla’s famed act of defiance in Delhi six years ago.
Once a tired Latham dragged Ashwin’s short and wide delivery on to his stumps while batting at 52 at the fag end of the second session, the gameplan changed. Every delivery for the rest of the day ended on the stumps. It was a test of patience for both the batters and bowlers.
Williamson’s concentration snapped as he got hit on the back pad off Jadeja for 24 off 112 balls. Jadeja had found his rhythm. He hammered away at the pads, claiming four LBWs in two hours while Ashwin hit the stumps twice.
Jadeja and Ashwin had their tails up with the second new ball. Every time they rushed back to the top of their run-ups, they looked like pouncing on their prey, only to be countered by Ravindra and Ajaz’s brave stand of defiance.