How Axar’s Spin Smarts Slashed New Zealand’s Advantage

Cricket News By TODAYLIVESCORE.INFO - How Axar's spin smarts slashed New Zealand's advantage. Axar finished with figures of 5/62.

How Axar’s Spin Smarts Slashed New Zealand’s AdvantageAxar finished with figures of 5/62.

‘Come on Ash, come on Ash, something's happening now Ash‘ yelled KS Bharat from behind the stumps during the third over of Day 3. This was not just a routine encouragement. After bowling 58 overs for nothing on the slow, docile surface at the Green Park on Day 2, the odd turn on some deliveries gave the Indian spinners some hope and the stand-in keeper a chirpy morning.

Mind you, this was still not a typical Day 3 where India would have walked all over an opposition unfamiliar with this part of the world. The chilly morning and the accompanying dew meant the cracks on the pitch hadn't quite opened up yet, and the ‘moving day' wasn't really going to move along to the whims of the hosts yet..

Ravichandran Ashwin was still in his element though – unfurling variations, recalibrating run ups, rejigging fields and trying absolutely everything within his capabilities to disrupt the rhythm with which Tom Latham and Will Young batted. India had bowled 57 overs on Day 2 without a reward, but knew the long game in these conditions involved a lot of discipline and a little more patience.

Ashwin's 11 overs, involving drawing Will Young into a set up, and Umesh Yadav's late seam movement with the new ball to prise out Kane Williamson sowed the seeds of India's hard-earned comeback – the success of which still relied on bowling executions through the second session.

Axar Patel had bowled just 10 overs on Day 2 and four in the lead up to the Lunch break, but found a way out on trying conditions with some subtle changes after the intermission. India welcomed Ross Taylor in the post-Lunch session with attacking fields. Umesh Yadav kept him watchful with both a short mid-on and a short midwicket to account for the flick. Axar went with just three leg side fielders, all inside the circle and bowled a straighter line.

Having done that for a couple of overs, Axar resorted to the little change he thought would help him create “something”. He went wide off the crease, and bowled with a round arm action that got the ball to go straight after being angled inwards. Surviving an LBW appeal just two balls before perhaps played on Taylor's mind so he looked to play inside the line of the ball. But the straightening of the delivery meant it took an outside edge which Bharat pouched really well.

The set up for Henry Nicholls came just two overs later. Axar started off with a silly mid-on, and then moved him to a forward short leg position. A ball later that fielder – Mayank Agarwal – took another step downwards, giving Nicholls a small window to exercise a risk-free sweep. He bit the bullet and attempted it, but off a fuller Axar delivery that was bowled at nearly 90kmph. Nicholls was perhaps a bit hard done by, by the original decision from Nitin Menon, considering the impact of the ball hitting the front pad was just about in line and ended up being umpire's call.

The quick wickets were of course handy but even when India weren't picking them, they had complete control by keeping a check on the run-making. Nicholls's exit brought out Tom Blundell, who only looked to block out against India's spinners while his namesake inched towards a century at the other end. India conceded just 29 runs in 14.3 overs in the first hour of the session – an effort that had another breakthrough round the corner.

Axar, who operated entirely from the River End – where there was purchase for the spinners – had a rough patch on either side of the batsmen to exploit. Against Latham, he targeted the one that was a bit shorter, and struck gold. The left-hander stepped out, seemingly in an attempt to negate the unpredictability of a delivery that came off that rough and ended up getting stumped. Axar's decisive spell in that period ended at 11 overs, with 13 runs and three wickets.

In the final session when Axar came back to bowl, there was a stubborn Blundell to bowl at, who'd piled up the balls faced column without making much of an impact to the scoreboard. For a visiting batsman, there are sometimes two extreme options to deal with spin. Some aim to sweep their way out of trouble, like England tried earlier this year, and some go into a cautious overdrive and look to dead-bat every delivery and play as late as possible.

Blundell chose the second route and was doing a fine job of it, until he decided to hang back on an innocuous ball that he could've treated differently. It's perhaps harsh to blame Blundell for missing a delivery that sneaked in below his vertical bat at shin level to hit the stumps, but on a pitch where there was hardly any extra bounce on offer, he missed the opportunity to negate it on the front foot. This was more a gift from Blundell for Axar, but the wily left-arm spinner capped off yet another fantastic day of Test cricket for him by using his most effective trick against Tim Southee.

With Southee and Kyle Jamieson now batting together, New Zealand's innings had entered the phase where they had to throw their bat around and gnaw away at their deficit as much as possible. So once Southee stepped out and slashed one over mid-on for a four off Axar, the spinner used the angle by going wide off the crease and fired a ball at 91.2 kmph that went straight after pitching and knocked back Southee's off-stump.

“I was just using the crease more,” Axar said on what he was doing differently from the other bowlers. “When I was bowling with a round arm, those balls were doing something. First I was bowling from closer to the stumps, and then when I went wide and bowled [with a] round arm [action], I got turn or something off it, and that's what they [New Zealand batsmen] were having trouble with,” he added.

After Ashwin cleaned up Will Somerville to bundle out New Zealand for 296, Axar led the team back to the pavilion, displaying to the crowd, his latest addition to the already brimming match-ball collection. In just his seventh Test innings, Axar picked up his fifth five-wicket haul – a start he described as unbelievably dreamy. On Saturday, it gave India the means to slash New Zealand's advantage in Kanpur.

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