Shreyas Iyer and lower order leave India chasing win over New Zealand in Kanpur

The first Indian batter to hit a ton and fifty on Test debut and the lower order revive India on Day 4 of the first Test on Sunday
Indian players Shreyas Iyer and Wriddhiman Saha run between the wickets during fourth day of the first cricket test match between India and New Zealand, at Green Park stadium in Kanpur, Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021. (PTI)
Indian players Shreyas Iyer and Wriddhiman Saha run between the wickets during fourth day of the first cricket test match between India and New Zealand, at Green Park stadium in Kanpur, Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021. (PTI)
Updated on Nov 28, 2021 08:59 PM IST
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Sydney, Brisbane, Lord’s, Oval—venues that have witnessed memorable Indian Test performances in the last year with the lower order batting spine playing a huge part in fightbacks. Kanpur may be the odd one out being a home venue, but if victory does arrive on the final day of the Green Park Test on Monday, that detail won’t matter a bit.

New Zealand, the top Test team, had India reeling at 51/5, the overall lead only 100 runs with the hosts in danger of capitulating on the fourth day before the lower-order batters put India on cruise control.

Shreyas Iyer followed his debut hundred with a crucial 65 and Wriddhiman Saha—a neck strain had prevented him from keeping wicket—braved pain to hit an unbeaten 61 at No. 8. A fightback Iyer and R Ashwin (32) began was still on with Saha and Axar Patel (28*) together when India declared in the evening. India had added 183 for the last two wickets lost by then.

The hosts set an improbable 284-run target and Ashwin dismissed Will Young (2) before the Kiwis ended the day on 4/1. TV replays suggested the ball would have missed the stumps. Young contemplated a review, and by the time he made his request, the 15-second DRS window had elapsed. With that dismissal, Ashwin became the joint third highest wicket-taker for India, equalling Harbhajan Singh’s haul (417 wickets).

New Zealand will resume 280 runs behind with first innings hero Tom Latham and nightwatchman William Sommerville. No team has chased more than 276 in India, and on a wearing fifth day track, India's in-form spin attack will be a daunting prospect for Kane Williamson’s team.

India rode on fifty-run partnerships for the sixth, seventh and eighth wickets— only the second occasion in Indian cricket history—after the top and middle-order batters failed again.

Kiwi pacers Tim Southee and Kylie Jamieson ran through the top half in the morning session. Cheteshwar Pujara and Mayank Agarwal started the day positively with Pujara deflecting a leg-stump half volley to the fine leg fence in the first over bowled by Jamieson. The tall pacer responded with a lifting delivery from a back of length aimed at the ribs and Pujara gloved it to the keeper.

Stand-in skipper Ajinkya Rahane, also under fire over lack of runs, did little to help his cause. His only scoring shot was an inside-out drive for four off left-arm spinner Ajaz Patel, who trapped him plumb the next delivery with an arm ball. As Iyer walked in to a warm applause in the 15th over, a change of guard looked in the offing.

Iyer survived an excellent burst from Southee, who tested him on the channel outside off-stump. It was an exhibition of seam bowling on a slow Day 4 pitch where the Kiwi spearhead toiled in an eight-over spell to extract what little assistance he could on a winter morning.

Southee peppered the good length area and even drew a false shot from Iyer early, but the edge flew between ‘keeper Tom Blundell and a wide first slip. He beat the outside edges of Iyer and Agarwal in the space of three balls. He was rewarded for his discipline the next over when he had Agarwal caught at second slip, and two balls later, trapped Ravindra Jadeja with a full delivery angled in from around the stump.

The double-wicket burst made Southee only the second Kiwi with 50 Test scalps against India, only behind Richard Hadlee (65). India went from 32/2 to 51/5, losing three wickets in nine overs.

Iyer shines again

The stage was again set for Iyer and the 26-year-old rose to the occasion. In the company of Ashwin, he went about rebuilding the innings.

The duo largely showed restraint against the pacers and milking the spinners for singles. In the three overs after the double-wicket blow, Iyer and Ashwin scored 21 runs, including 11 in one Southee over.

The 52-run sixth wicket partnership pulled India out of the crisis as the lead began to grow. India led by 152 runs when Ashwin played Jamieson on to the stumps and Saha came in.

The 37-year-old played second fiddle to Iyer as both accumulated runs with deft nudges and hard running between the wickets. When Iyer brought up his fifty off 109 balls, he became the first Indian, and 16th overall, to hit a hundred and a half century on debut.

Iyer marked the milestone by hitting left-arm spinner Ajaz Patel for two fours in the next over. A beautiful flick off Southee bisecting mid-wicket and mid-on followed but the fast bowler struck off the next ball, the last before tea. When the attempted pull off a short ball caught the glove on the way to keeper, he had added 64 runs for the seventh wicket with Saha.

Saha ends drought

Saha's knock assumes greater significance. On the last legs of his international career with injuries not helping, the rise of Risabh Pant has pushed the Bengal gloveman further to the sidelines. Saha is playing his first Test this year, and that is because Pant has been rested. Last year, he played only in the Adelaide pink-ball Test. His last Test fifty had come 15 innings back, in 2017.

Saha went about his business with steely resilience as usual. Batting with an open-chested stance, perhaps due to the neck problem, Saha refused to be bogged down by the disciplined bowling, and despite being beaten outside off-stump by Southee a few times, he soldiered on.

He was on top against spin, using a short stride and soft hands to defend and nudge singles. When quick runs were needed, he swept off-spinner William Sommerville for a four—the midwicket fielder could only get his finger tips to it—and a six. He had shepherded the 67-run eighth-wicket stand with Axar Patel when the declaration came.


    Shantanu Srivastava is an experienced sports journalist who has worked across print and digital media. He covers cricket and Olympic sports.

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