India’s quest to dislodge Pakistan from the number one slot in Test cricket met with some initial resistance from the New Zealanders on day four of the Eden Test.
However, as the day wore on, the relentless pressure by Virat Kohli and his four bowlers did the trick and India finally climbed that one step which took them to the top of the ICC rankings, an honour that had eluded them in the West Indies, due to the final Test being ruined by poor weather conditions.
Since India are playing 11 more Test matches at home, they are now in a position to cement their place at the top and stay there for some time.
The resistance in the first half of the day was unexpected, but it not because anyone doubted the batting abilities of New Zealand. It had more to do with a wicket that so far had created a huge amount of doubt and uncertainty in the mind of the batsmen due to its double-paced nature.
As play began today, one sight that dominated the first three days’ play, especially till yesterday afternoon – the ball jumping or keeping low – was completely missing. No ungainly hops or sinking to the ground in search of the ball keeping low.
Reading the wicket and its nature, especially the sudden change in its character, has been part of cricket’s folklore. It is this unpredictability that makes Test cricket so fascinating to watch.
Why and how after three days of creating panic among the batsmen, the wicket played true, will remain a mystery, unless the groundsman comes up with a logical explanation.
Leaving that aside, the New Zealand batsmen were still under immense pressure, and the ball post tea started to turn and at times even prodigiously, not an unusual sight on a fourth evening of a Test match, that too in India.
Much as Tom Lotham applied himself at the top, it was always going to be difficult to chase a score of 376. The brainy, crafty Ashwin wasn’t the one to let the wicket defeat him. He employed enough variations, be it rotating the ball, slowing it down, using the carrom ball, the seam to either spin it into the bat or make it leave the batsmen to keep the pressure on.
The rewards came finally. First it was Mark Guptall, who found himself plumb in front of the stumps to a ball that he failed to read in the air. Then Ross Taylor was foxed to play for the turn, whereas the ball went straight to hit his pads. Lotham had found a way to keep his pads away from the ball but his patient vigil ended with Ashwin’s stock off-spin, that left the left-hander poking bat for Wriddhiman Saha to take the edge.
At four down and still a long way to go, the New Zealanders were gasping on borrowed oxygen. It was only a matter of time now as Mohammed Shami came back into the attack and knocked over two more.
Though an Indian win was becoming more and more certain, Luke Ronchi was once again stroking the ball with a decisiveness that his teammates could do well to learn from. His footwork has been flawless, especially his backfoot strikes on the off side, but in a team game, one or two players can’t change the fate of a match on their own.
You can’t keep the irrepressible Ravindra Jadeja quiet for long and he was the one who breached Ronchi’s defenses. The under-stated Bhuvneshwar Kumar, the strike bowler of the first innings, too got into the act, knocking out Jeetan Patel’s stumps, making it a truly a collective team effort from the Indian side.
On a day when the umpires were put under tremendous pressure as balls kept thudding into the pads or lobbed into the hands of the close-in fielders, and the appeals got louder and louder, the need for DRS was felt again and again. Jadeja, the perky little busy man, was at his loudest, persistent best and a couple of decisions may have been iffy for either side, but to Rod Tucker and Richard Kettleborough’s credit, they controlled the game well and got most of their decisions right.