Rachin Ravindra and Ajaz Patel defended resolutely for 40 minutes in fading light as New Zealand pulled off a remarkable escape in the first Test, securing its first draw in India since 2010. Hemmed in by close-in fielders and tested by a pitch full of cracks and footmarks, the batters fell one by one to the charm of spin in the afternoon and evening, but Ravindra (18 n.o., 91b) and Patel (2, 23b) were to deny India a 1-0 series lead.
R. Ashwin (3 for 35) and Ravindra Jadeja (4 for 40) exploited the fifth-day pitch to keep the opposition on a leash. Ashwin went past Harbhajan Singh to become the third-highest Indian wicket-taker in Test cricket, taking his tally to 419 – only Kapil Dev (434) and Anil Kumble (619) are ahead of him.
An Indian win appeared likely once Kane Williamson was dismissed lbw by an arm ball from Ravindra Jadeja in the second half of the day. After playing carefully for more than a full session, defending unceasingly, he couldn’t handle a fast delivery that came on with the angle from round the wicket by Jadeja. He went back to the length ball to try to defend; the ball struck him in front.
Williamson’s was the sixth wicket to fall, and with specialist batters Ross Taylor and Henry Nicholls already out, the lower order had the monumental task of surviving for about an hour and a half. Tom Blundell and Rachin Ravindra stuck around for a bit, but despite their vigilance, Ashwin broke their stand, Blundell strangely playing on to a full, turning delivery.
IND vs NZ 1st Test: Ashwin surpasses Harbhajan Singh, becomes third-highest wicket-taker for India in Tests
The new ball was taken, and Jamieson was soon trapped in front by Jadeja. Southee was lbw, too, on a similar delivery. With the spinners’ tails up, it seemed victory was at hand, but the last pair were dogged.
The dominance of the spinners notwithstanding, it was Umesh Yadav who unsettled New Zealand first in with a probing spell of bowling with the old ball in the post-lunch session, thanks to reverse swing.
India vs New Zealand, 1st Test Highlights: Ravindra, Patel help New Zealand hang on for draw
Williamson and Tom Latham were lucky to survive. Umesh beat the usually impeccable Williamson with a near-unplayable delivery that pitched on a good length on off-stump and narrowly went past the edge of the bat and the off-stump. Williamson was stunned and he acknowledged the sharpness of the delivery immediately. Latham, who was set and building his innings patiently, edged one off Umesh and the ball bounced and evaded the diving fielder at second slip en route to the boundary.
Latham eventually fell to Ashwin for 52 (146b, 3×4) and it changed the scenario. Ross Taylor looked suspect against spin from the get-go, taking 23 deliveries to open his account as he prodded forward uncertainly and it seemed it was a matter of time that he would be dismissed lbw, bowled, or caught by the wicketkeeper or one of the close-in fielder. After being nearly stumped off one of Ashwin’s deliveries going down the leg side, he fell to a straight delivery from Jadeja at the stroke of lunch. Expecting turn, he brought his bat forward to smother the delivery but the ball went past it and struck his thigh.
That the contest dragged on till evening was due to resistance by New Zealand’s overnight pair.
Will Young, after the second day’s play, had underlined the importance of striking the right balance between attack and defence, and batting coach Luke Ronchi on Sunday spoke about the need to adopt a positive approach. Nightwatchman Will Somerville and opener Tom Latham followed the advice well in the morning, neither putting their shutters down nor taking undue risks to score runs.
Somerville entertained with some exquisite strokes. He played two picturesque strokes off Umesh off consecutive deliveries within the first hour of the day’s play. They were two length deliveries outside the off-stump: the first was square cut to the backward point boundary, and the second was steered off the back foot to the point boundary. He was comfortable facing the other seamer, Ishant, too.
Just before lunch, he attacked India’s premier spinner Ashwin too, punching a short, wide delivery off the back foot. Not knowing how else to unsettle him, Umesh and Ishant tried to test him out with the short ball which he negotiated well for the most part before falling to a pull stroke on the first delivery after lunch. Shubman Gill, at fine leg, dived forward to complete an excellent catch.
Latham was enterprising too, and he was confident enough against Ashwin to unearth the reverse-sweep. As in the first innings, he played the conventional sweep well, and he survived Umesh’s litmus test with the reverse swing. Ashwin, whom he had negotiated carefully, for so long, finally saw the back of him as he played the cut too early and dragged the ball onto the stumps, perhaps deceived by the slower pace of the ball. India saw the opening and chipped away at the opposition but couldn’t quite finish it off.