India regained their No.1 position in Tests with a massive 178-run victory against New Zealand on a tricky pitch that gave them an unassailable 2-0 lead in the series.
A confident innings from Tom Latham saw New Zealand start strong but without their best batsman and captain Kane Williamson, saving the Test was always going to be tough. India’s bowling craft was its best too.
As expected from a fourth day pitch, the spinners finally came into play but pacers played a vital part as well. Add to that Wridhhiman Saha’s gritty unbeaten knocks before an outstanding stint with the gloves and India never looked in danger of losing their way despite the visitors being 104/1 at one time. And then there was Virat Kohli’s instinct that is making him slowly look the captain India long needed to harness their talent.
This win has come off a combined effort but for Saha, it will be special. Two unbeaten fifties have firmly established his credentials as a No.7 who can buttress the innings when needed. He isn’t the most graceful batsman, especially against pacers who have often jarred his hands and other parts of his body, but Saha has shown the courage to ride out the initial attacks and slowly make his presence felt. And when he backs his batting with the kind of catching that got Tom Latham out after a stubborn innings, India know they have the right person at the right position.
Only after the dismissal of Latham --- in the first over after tea --- did India look likely to repeat their Eden feat of 2001 where they got the last seven wickets in the last session on Day 5. Here, another grueling day awaited New Zealand if they could get past the fourth.
Still they showed some fight with the bat in a series that hasn’t been dominated by batsmen. Both teams are yet to score 400. And it took four innings for a team to put up a 50-run opening partnership in this Test. It could have been broken earlier though. Mohammed Shami hit Martin Guptill plumb on his pad but his appeal was turned down. Next time he appealed again, against Mitchell Santner, there was no ambiguity.
Guptill however couldn’t utilise his second life. First over after lunch, he was done in by the dip of R Ashwin and ended leg-before. Henry Nicholls stitched a good 49-run partnership before edging Ravindra Jadeja to Ajinkya Rahane at slip. By the time Ross Taylor was snared by Ashwin, hopes of an early finish to the Test were on the rise.
After the close of play, Kohli said he didn’t want to wake up 6.30 am on Tuesday. Home boy Saha made his wish come true and also ensured Kolkata wasn’t distracted from another day of Puja buildup. Despite producing one of the best innings of the series, Latham was bound to run out of patience one time. Ashwin’s drift was an entrapment, inviting him to drive but spinning viciously in the last second to take a faintest edge that Saha pouched superbly.
Another home boy Shami kept his end of the deal too. With the pitch showing signs of slowing down, Jadeja and Ashwin were primed for long spells. But Kohli hardly adheres to convention. He brought Shami from the clubhouse end for a six-over spell. Santner already sent home, Shami beat BJ Watling’s outer edge to shatter his off-stump.
Visibly tired, Shami was given a break by Kohli who put Jadeja and Bhuvneshwar Kumar in charge of the bowling. That too worked like a charm with Luke Ronchi and Jeetan Patel being dismissed in consecutive overs. The next two wickets took some time to come but with the right bowlers at their disposal, India were never short on patience.