For sustained intensity that has resulted in a dramatic turnaround, it must rank among India’s finest pace bowling efforts in a Test. It started essentially as a by-play after the hopes of saving the match seemed to have been snuffed out by New Zealand in the morning. But by the end of the third day in the first Test at Eden Park, India’s spirits soared as a sensational bowling fight back has left them chasing one of Test cricket’s biggest comeback victories.
It was a manic Saturday as 17 wickets tumbled, and still the drop-in pitch looks good for runs as wear and tear is minimal on such a surface. Having skittled out the Kiwis for 105 in the second innings, India will improve their record of the third highest fourth innings chase ever by one run if they manage to get to the target of 407. At the close, India had reached 87 for one, with Cheteshwar Pujara and Shikhar Dhawan having settled down. But with another 320 runs to defend, the Kiwi pacers will clearly fancy their chances of bowling out the visitors.
There was no sign of the storm that erupted when India lost their last six wickets for 64 runs in the morning. Once the overnight batsmen Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane fell playing without any feet movement, the Kiwis pace trio of Neil Wagner, Tim Southee and Trent Boult wrapped things up.
Having conceded a 301-run first innings lead, and with New Zealand electing to bat again without enforcing the follow-on as team tend to do, there was no inkling of the storm the battered India would whip up.
It was Mohammed Shami again who set the tone as India’s chastened pacers were right on target, and put away the short ball that proved their undoing in the first innings. Unlucky in the first innings after a catch was dropped and a leg before shout didn’t go his way, he was dead accurate as he removed the shaky openers Hamish Rutherford and Peter Fulton in his first two overs. But the Kiwis had escaped from 30 for three on the first morning.
Though India’s fielding was brilliant, still it was Ravindra Jadeja’s stunning efforts that saw the back of first innings centurions Kane Williamson and skipper Brendon McCullum and reduced the Kiwis to 15 for 4 at lunch.
Williamson, in the form of his life, made a rare misjudgement, deceived by the new ball gripping the pitch that sent his flick off Zaheer ballooning towards short midwicket. Jadeja dived and completed his celebratory throwing up of the ball in one motion.
India were buzzing but Murali Vijay again proved a poor first slip. His let-off of Williamson on 32 had allowed him to make 113 in the first innings. Shami had suffererd. This time, McCullum pushed at Zaheer Khan and Vijay could not anticipate the swerve as the ball reached him. But it didn’t prove expensive as the Kiwi skipper was run out brilliantly by Jadeja attempting a second run with Ishant alert enough to run in to collect the throw.
Taylor showed his experience to top-score with 41 but the pacers never let go off the pressure. And another great catch, by Ajinkya Rahane at gully, which ended Taylor’s stay. Shami bowled 10 overs on the trot on either side of lunch and was rewarded when he beat Corey Anderson with a beauty which nipped back to hit the leg-stump of the left-hander.
Ishant Sharma didn’t let the tail wag, removing the last three wickets after tea to complete a nine-wicket match haul.
Shikhar was shaky again but was dropped by a diving McCullum at cover off Tim Southee on seven. Murali Vijay again looked solid but fell playing his favourite leg glance down the leg side. India finally showed what they can do with application. But they will need plenty of good fortune too if they are to complete what would be an amazing turnaround.