2nd Test: India push for victory in second Test versus New Zealand after Ajaz Patel record
- The visitors were 140/5 at stumps on Day 3 after being set an improbable target of 540 as India pushed for victory at the Wankhede Stadium.
Outside of England and Australia, India’s old Test centres still draw a good crowd. The Wankhede Stadium is one of them. On the weekends of a five-day game, the stadium has a buzz. The Maharashtra government’s restrictions due to the pandemic means only 25% of the capacity is allowed this time. But the 7,000-odd fans who turned up on Sunday to witness Day 3 of the second Test between India and New Zealand stretched their vocal chords to enliven the proceedings.
From the cricketing point of view, India captain Virat Kohli’s decision not to declare early was difficult to make sense of, but the crowd wasn’t complaining. They got their entertainment through the knocks of Mayank Agarwal (62), Subhman Gill (47) and Axar Patel (41*) as India rapidly posted a second innings 276/7 declared for a lead of 539.
Left-arm spinner Ajaz Patel, the latest sensation in Test cricket, followed up his all-10 in the first innings with four wickets in the second to finish with a 14-wicket match haul—the best bowling figures against India. The previous best was Ian Botham’s 13-wicket haul, also at the Wankhede, in the centenary Test in 1980. All seven wickets fell to left-arm spin with Rachin Ravindra taking three. Patel finished with figures of 26-3-106-4 (14/225 in the match).
When Kohli declared at 1.50 pm, India had 45 overs to bowl in the day. After being shot out for 62 on Friday, New Zealand batters will take some solace that they have managed to stretch the game into the fourth day. At the close, they were 140/5, staring at an impossible task of having to score 400 to win. R Ashwin did the damage with 3/27 off 17 overs.
On a pitch where the ball is kicking and turning square, if the idea was to just get the job done, India could have wrapped up this Test inside Day 3 by enforcing the follow-on. The Indian bowlers hardly broke sweat in the first innings, bundling out New Zealand in 28.1 overs. On the evidence of their first innings play against the spinners, the Kiwi batters didn’t stand a chance. Ashwin looked like taking a wicket off every ball.
But considering the grief this New Zealand side has given India, it won’t forget in a hurry. At the receiving end of the big games between them in recent times—defeats in 2019 World Cup semi-final, World Test Championship final, T20 World Cup and the Kanpur draw after a last-wicket escape—India were waiting for such an opportunity. From all indications, it was payback time. Otherwise, there didn’t seem any reason for India to continue batting as they did. When you want to grind the opposition, the best way is to send them on a leather hunt. India have used this Test to expose NZ’s limitations in the sub-continent.
Axar Patel defended the decision to bat on. "I won't call it delay as there is so much time left in the game. The idea was to bat as long as possible as you don't get this kind of a situation every day, so the plan was to make the most of it. We were trying to explore variation options and check out. What if we have to chase on this kind of a track on the last day? We were trying to express ourselves in a different situation.”
The other reason was senior batsmen Cheteshwar Pujara and Kohli needed to bat for some time before the tough South Africa tour starting later this month. Though the idea was to regain confidence, that target wasn’t met.
The issue with India’s three senior middle-order batters, including Ajinkya Rahane who is sitting out this game, in the last two years has been a poor conversion rate. As the New Zealand series winds down, their troubles remain. Pujara and Kohli again couldn’t convert their starts. India’s No. 3, Pujara opened in the innings but was out three short of a half-century. The India captain, who was out for a duck like Pujara, fell for 36.
Kohli’s last century was a 136 against Bangladesh in November, 2019. Pujara’s hundred goes back to his 193 against Australia in January, 2019. Sunday was perfect to cash in. They were batting under no pressure and the only bowling challenge came from Ajaz Patel.
They spent enough time at the crease to find rhythm—Pujara played 97 balls and Kohli 84. It was a strange kind of innings from both, though. The batsman from Rajkot was at ease against the spinners, but the moment NZ stand-in captain Tom Latham got his pace bowlers to hurl bouncers from around the wicket, Pujara lost rhythm. Kohli, on the other hand, looked edgy against the left-arm spinners, Patel and Rachin Ravindra.
The pacers bowling into the body held no threat to the premier batsman. Eventually, Pujara was caught at slip off Patel while Kohli played an innocuous ball from Ravindra on to the stumps.
In contrast, opener Mayank Agarwal showed he has taken the advice of coach Rahul Dravid, to cash in when set, to heart. Despite a marathon 150 first innings lasting over seven hours, he was still hungry for runs. He top-scored with 62 (108 balls, 9x4, 1x6) in the second innings as well. Dravid will also be pleased with Axar Patel’s batting. The left-handed lower-order batter ensured the Ravindra Jadeja’s absence was not felt. Having got his first half-century in the first innings, Axar played an entertaining cameo, smashing four sixes and three fours.
Though Gill too provided good entertainment, Dravid will not be entirely satisfied with the batsman’s tendency to throw his wicket away after being set. He was enterprising, mainly targeting the spinners to the midwicket region. There were cheeky shots as well. Off-spinner William Somerville was reverse swept for four. However, three short of his half-century, he slashed Ravindra to short cover. For the third time, he had frittered away a good start in the series. He was out for 44 in the first innings while he made 52 in the first innings of the Kanpur Test.
LATHAM’S TWIN FAILURES
In the absence of Kane Williamson, the New Zealand batting was heavily reliant on opener Tom Latham. In Kanpur, he was the rock of the NZ innings. On the slow, low wicket he displayed a fine temperament. However, he flopped in both the innings to leave the NZ batting anchorless. On Sunday, he fell for six, defending down the wrong line to Ashwin to be leg before.
The Wankhede track called for better footwork. Playing from the crease was a challenge. Daryl Mitchell, the No 3 batter, employed that tactics, and got a 60 off 92 balls, before holing out to deep cover off Axar Patel. The other resistance came from Henry Nicholls, who returned unbeaten on 36.
India have decided to give New Zealand a slow, painful defeat here, the final rites of which will be completed on the fourth morning.