IND vs NZ first Test: India eyes win after Shreyas Iyer, Wriddhiman Saha rally

Shreyas Iyer’s “fairytale” became even more special on Sunday as he scored a responsible half-century to lead India’s fightback after a top-order collapse. He was ably supported by a fluid R. Ashwin and a grafting Wriddhiman Saha as India assumed control again by stumps on Day Four. New Zealand, at 4 for 1, now needs 280 more to win.

Will Young was unlucky to be dismissed minutes before the end of the day’s play. Ashwin’s turning ball stayed low and struck him on the pads and the ball, according to the ball-tracker, would have missed leg-stump. But he took more than 15 seconds to opt for the referral after the umpire had given him out.

Scorecard and ball-by-ball commentary 

Shreyas’ 65 (125b, 8×4, 1×6) meant he became the first Indian to score a century and a half-century on debut. Only nine other cricketers around the world have achieved the feat. But more importantly, he gave his team some stability to allow it to get into a winning position going into Day Five.

He rode his luck, edging Tim Southee between slip and wicketkeeper on the third delivery of his innings, and defended reliably. When the ball was pitched short and wide by the bowlers, he went for his cut, and when the seamers drifted down the leg side, he played his flicks. He survived some probing spells from both seamers, before opening up later, even stepping down the track to Ajaz Patel to hit a six down the ground. His belligerence eventually got the better of him as he got out trying to pull Southee to leg and gloving the ball to the wicketkeeper.

Ashwin (32, 62b, 5×4) was the first, however, to get India out of the woods. He was comfortable from the get go, quickly scoring a few boundaries to signal a shift in momentum and get his team rolling again. He watches the ball late and is an excellent timer of the ball – these traits were on display when he helped India recover late in the morning and early afternoon.

His strokeful innings contained two nice late cuts off the spinners, a beautiful drive and a pull shot off Southee. Just as in the first innings, when he got out, it was against the run of play – Southee and Jamieson tried to unsettle him with short deliveries and he fell to one pitched slightly short, dragging it on to his stumps.

Saha (61 n.o., 126b, 4×4, 1×6), the next man in, batted well in his copybook style. Taking a liking to off-spinner Will Somerville, he went down on one knee to slog sweep him for a four through deep midwicket and then slog-swept him again a bit finer, towards square leg, for six. Later, when he saw the width against Jamieson, he opened the face of his bat to guide the ball to the third-man boundary. Towards the end of the day, he even attempted the scoop shot off Somerville, perhaps signaling a shift of gears now that India was ahead by many.

And by this time, Southee and Kyle Jamieson appeared innocuous. To be sure, they got the ball to reverse and beat the bat a few times, but that was about all the help they could get from the ball and the pitch. Their strategy to bowl short to Ashwin and to try out the delivery down the leg side did yield dividends, but the contest had changed substantially since morning, when Southee did appear to be quite a threat. Ajinkya Rahane eventually declared the innings closed on 234 for 7 with less than half hour to go for the day’s play to end.

New Zealand’s session 

It was New Zealand’s session, the first one, as Indian middle-order pillars Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane fell in quick time, scoring a total of 26 runs between them, and Mayank Agarwal and Ravindra Jadeja fell to Southee’s charm in an excellent over.

Pujara was strangled down the leg side by Jamieson after a careful innings of 22. It was a surprise delivery: short, angling down leg and directed at the ribs. The ball had softly brushed the glove on its way to the wicketkeeper, technology confirmed after the umpire’s not-out verdict was reviewed.

Rahane struck the fourth boundary of the day two overs later, after surviving a probing over from Jamieson. But he was out next ball. It was a lovely trap by left-arm spinner Ajaz Patel – the delivery that was driven for four was full, on off-stump, and turning away from the right-hander, while the next delivery, similar in line and length, was an arm ball. Rahane came forward to defend it; the ball went on straight with the angle and thudded into his front pad.

It deflated the Sunday crowd which seconds earlier were cheering the boundary with a cacophony of horns.

Southee then pegged India back further, producing a couple of excellent deliveries get rid of Agarwal and Ravindra Jadeja. Agarwal could have been dismissed in the first half-hour of the morning as he edged Jamieson through slip and gully, but when he edged again to Southee, the fielders were positioned appropriately to take the chance. Tom Latham, at second slip, leapt to his left to pouch the ball. The delivery, after pitching on a good length, just straightened enough to take the edge.

Southee went around the wicket to left-hander Jadeja and delivered a nice 1-2 – after greeting him with a length ball outside off-stump, he got one to angle into him after pitching on a good length. Jadeja, perhaps preparing for another leave, got struck on the pads. India was 51 or 5 and struggling.

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