R Ashwin put India firmly on the path to winning the Kanpur Test, grabbing three wickets in a 13-over new-ball spell that blew an early hole through New Zealand’s hopes of saving it. In the process, he also became the second-quickest bowler to 200 Test wickets in the history of the game.
Tea was taken as soon as India declared their second innings at 377 for 5, leaving New Zealand the task of surviving four sessions or chasing down 434. A New Zealand win was probably out of the question, and the likelihood of a draw plummeted when Ashwin took out both their openers in the fourth over of their innings. By stumps, they had lost two more wickets, those of Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor, their most experienced batsmen.
Batting against Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja on a fourth-day pitch was always going to be difficult for New Zealand. A couple of avoidable dismissals made their job even harder. Martin Guptill gave India their first breakthrough with an ill-advised slog-sweep out of the rough. He inside-edged into his front pad, and popped up a catch to silly point.
With New Zealand already three down, Taylor was run out going to the non-striker’s end, by a direct hit from Umesh Yadav at deep midwicket. Having already given the throw half a chance by watching the fielder rather than putting his head down and haring as fast as possible, he made the worst possible error as he crossed the crease, getting his bat past the line but failing to ground it.
The other two wickets, though, were all about Ashwin’s skill, particularly through the air. First, his flight drew Tom Latham forward but not particularly close to the pitch of the ball. Then, instead of turning away, natural variation kept the ball going with the angle from around the wicket, beating the left-hander’s inside edge and hitting his front pad right in front.
Like all good players of spin, Williamson has feet that can quickly adjust to being beaten in the air. But even the quickest feet can’t do much when a ball turns sharply and quickly. He had reached 25 when Ashwin’s trajectory pulled his front leg forward and across, outside off stump. Realising he wouldn’t get close to the pitch, he dragged his foot back, in a bid to give his bat room to work the ball into the leg side, but the ball just turned too far and too quickly, missing the bat entirely and pinging the withdrawn front pad bang in front.
On another day, Ashwin might have had a five-for by stumps. Richard Kettleborough turned down close lbw shouts against Taylor, once from over the wicket, once from around, with the sheer amount of turn generated by the bowler working against him. There were also a couple of missed half-chances, as Umesh Yadav, backtracking from square leg, and M Vijay, running from second slip towards point with the ball dropping from behind him, failed to catch Williamson and Luke Ronchi.
As it happened, New Zealand went to stumps without further loss, with Ronchi and Mitchell Santner trusting the contrasting methods that had served them well in the first innings. They kept India wicketless for the last 15.3 overs of the fourth day; their task on the fifth will be a whole lot harder.
Resuming their second innings on 252 for 1, India batted through the first two sessions, declaring as soon as Ravindra Jadeja completed his second Test half-century. Jadeja and Rohit Sharma – who went past 1000 Test runs while scoring an unbeaten 68 – added an unbroken 100 for the sixth wicket, at 5.40 runs per over, effectively putting the target beyond New Zealand’s reach.
Promoted ahead of R Ashwin and Wriddhiman Saha, Jadeja struck three sixes and two fours, and Rohit hit eight fours in his innings, and the pace of their scoring was aided by the ones and twos made available by New Zealand’s spread-out fields. It was an understandable tactic given the pair’s six-hitting ability, and given India’s position.
Before Rohit and Jadeja came together, New Zealand’s spinners had shown a marked improvement over their display on the third evening, when their frequent loose balls had allowed Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara to extend India’s advantage at a nearly uncontrollable rate.
Mitchell Santner, probably the best of the three spinners, dismissed Vijay in the tenth over of the morning, getting one to straighten from an off-stump line to hit his front pad. Then Virat Kohli, who had already got away with a couple of streaky, over-aggressive shots in moving to 18, looked to sweep Mark Craig out of the rough and top-edged to deep midwicket.
Either side of lunch, New Zealand took two more wickets, both to sharp catches by Taylor at slip. First, Ish Sodhi went around the wicket and opened up Pujara. Then, Santner picked up a deserved second, getting one to turn further than expected to kiss the edge of Ajinkya Rahane’s defensive bat.
News source: cricinfo.com