It was only after the players returned from the lunch break on Monday that the real feast began. The first to the table was India’s spin ace R Ashwin, and he had a large helping.
As India entered the field on Monday, the third day of the final Test against New Zealand, all eyes were on Ashwin, and he did not disappoint. The off-spinner spun a web to capture six wickets for 81 runs, completing his 20th five-wicket haul in Tests.
After Virat Kohli’s and Ajinkya Rahane’s domination, the third day’s play belonged to Ashwin, only that he had to wait for the sun to reach its zenith.
His effort saw India bowl out the visitors for 299 to take a potentially match-winning lead of 258, seizing control of the game in their bid for a clean sweep.
Interestingly, Ashwin and spin-mate Ravindra Jadeja had struggled to find purchase off the wicket in the morning as New Zealand resumed on 18 for no loss chasing India’s first innings 557/7 declared.
Openers Tom Latham (53) and Martin Guptill (72) started with earnestness. They stitched together a 118-run stand to get their side off to a positive start. The visitors though had their share of fortune along the way as Guptill was dropped by Rahane with the score reading 30 for no loss.
The momentum shifted just as the teams were to break for lunch after Ashwin deceived Latham into getting a leading edge for a simple caught and bowled. He had first tasted blood after nearly ten overs.
Post-Lunch though Ashwin hit his stride. At the post-match press conference, he said there were not many cracks on the wicket and the going was tough. He was being modest though as the Kiwis would vouch for it.
“Through this series I have not really started in a fine rhythm. I’m trying to get my alignment and rhythm properly, and it’s taking me a few overs. Once I go through it, and when my body starts going completely into the ball, the spells start getting better, and that was one of the spells after lunch,” the 30-year-old said.
He worked on the weaknesses and reaped the rewards. He forced the Kiwi batsmen to play across or lured them forward to extract an edge. It was a spin bowling masterclass.
MORE THAN WICKETS
The scale of his impact can be gauged from the fact that he was instrumental in sending back the top six Kiwi batsmen. Other than his six wickets, Ashwin also ran out two others, including Guptill, who was a threat and just 29 runs short of a hundred.
Not only did he break the opening partnership which was threatening to ease India’s hold, he also cleared all the hurdles New Zealand’s middle-order of skipper Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor could place.
Williamson fell for eight, dragging one on to the stumps, and Taylor was tricked into playing inside the line to edge to the waiting hands of Rahane at first slip.
It was a crucial juncture and a point in the contest when wickets fell like a pack of cards.
Virat Kohli soon sensed what was coming and Ashwin was given an attacking field. Bowling from the pavilion end, Ashwin used the roughs created by the pacers who the skipper smartly deployed from the other end.
This is Ashwin’s second five-wicket haul of the series. The last time India played at home, it was Ashwin who ran away with the games, finishing that series against South Africa with 31 wickets in four Tests. His tally in this series stands at 20 with another innings to come.
India didn’t enforce the follow-on, reaching 18 for no loss at stumps to extend their lead to 276.