Cricket News By TODAYLIVESCORE.INFO - The pitch held on, so did New Zealand. Rachin Ravindra's gutsy effort in the final session denied India.
Rachin Ravindra's gutsy effort in the final session denied India.
Umpire Nitin Menon had to observe the light meter reading for the fourth time in the space of 15 minutes. The sun was in and out from behind the clouds, inadvertently adding to the late drama at Green Park as the Test had now boiled down to its absolute finality – the last over for India to bowl. The last batting pair for New Zealand to survive.
Ajaz Patel had two slips, two leg slips, a short leg, a short mid-on, a short mid-off and a raucous Kanpur crowd to contend with. And Ravindra Jadeja with the prospect of picking one of his most dramatic five-wicket hauls in Tests. The stage was set for a heroic star turn from the spinner and a cruel ending for a visiting side, agonisingly missing out on four crucial points. But was it, really?
Ajaz, having faced 17 deliveries already, confidently planted his front foot forward and defended with a straight bat. Jadeja changed sides to force a different angle and result, but in vain. With that over kept out, New Zealand's final-wicket pair of Ajaz and the immensely impressive debutant Rachin Ravindra had batted 52 balls to deny India another home victory and mark an incredible start to their WTC title defence. To put it in perspective, India have lost just one Test at home since 2018 and this was the first time they had to share the honours.
This to an extent, was down to how confidently New Zealand were able to play on the front foot throughout the fifth day, when the expectation was for the pitch to have worn out to the extent that the Indian spin trio would pose serious questions – questions on the basis of balls turning square, or spitting up – and down – from opened up cracks. In the end, you could perhaps count the number of balls that misbehaved and went rogue on your hands and still be left with fingers to spare. It had been the template from the beginning on the slow and low Kanpur pitch, and somehow, it stubbornly held onto that characteristic till the very last ball was bowled.
“It just felt like if you wanted to block and if you didn't want to score runs, then it felt really difficult to get people out,” head coach Rahul Dravid opined.
Will Somerville brought that thought to life as he stood in India's way and their early inroads into the middle-order. Ravichandran Ashwin got a few balls to turn sharply, but as had been the case on all the days before, it was still slow enough for the batsmen to adjust at the last minute and get behind the line.
It led to a move of utter desperation around the first hour mark in the morning session, when appreciable turn immediately resulted in a review for an LBW shout, even though the impact of the ball hitting Tom Latham's back pad was well outside the off stump.
Having taken in the conditions early on, India got to a point where they stopped surrounding the batsman with fielders at short leg and silly point, instead employing them at short midwicket and covers in anticipation of expansive drives. Not one wicket through the Test had been the result of an edge carrying to slip, the close-in catchers in front of the bat or the knelt-down version of gully for the spinners, a trend that didn't change even on the last day.
“I guess the facts of the pitch were that it probably was low and slow, and didn't have that much bounce and turn. You probably expect a little more wear and tear on these wickets in Indian conditions over the course of five days. It just didn't seem to have that kind of bite,” Dravid said.
“Generally in India on Day 5 you can challenge both edges, your spinners certainly can challenge both edges – both the outside edge for the catches and the inside edge, where you can beat people on the inside edge and get LBWs.
“Honestly, in this game, the outside edge was virtually ruled out. Even till the last day, none of the edges carried. I mean I can't remember a catch close to the bat. I think [KS] Bharat took a couple but other than that there was nothing. It sort of just felt like there was only one way to get people out – that's bowled and lbw which was true in the last session,” Dravid added.
Latham took one of those two out of the equation by consciously making sure he faced balls outside the off stump to have impact on his side on leg-before appeals. India happened to break the second-wicket stand only because Somerville had a lapse in decision making right after Lunch break, as he took on a short ball. India slowed New Zealand down considerably through Umesh's superb six-over burst for nine runs but the hope to tear down what was still left of New Zealand's batting wasn't looking promising.
Yet India closed the session with two more wickets – an Ashwin ball that out of the blue kept low and had Latham playing it on, before Jadeja took a leaf out of Axar Patel's book to trap Ross Taylor. Mind you, this wasn't the sort of treacherous pitch where the odd ball that didn't turn would be lethal – as was the case against England in Chennai this year. In the absence of quicker spin, the ball that just went with the angle became a handy variation that Jadeja struck with.
India perhaps got their hopes up of a late heist only when Williamson opted to hang back on a length ball from Jadeja – again holding its line through – and get trapped leg before. His departure built significant tension and gave India a chance to surround the batsmen once again in the hope of eking out an error even without the ball being menacing enough.
Blundell got sucked in, with a bizarre dismissal after his forward defence took an edge, pitched on a bowler's footmark close-by and got diverted onto the stumps. It was a strange but fair reward for the first hour effort that India put in, in the final session – bowling 19.5 overs for 18 runs and three wickets to reduce New Zealand to 143/7.
Though Jamieson then played down the wrong line and Tim Southee didn't stand the test of time like he'd have liked, India ran into a brick wall in Rachin Ravindra, who came with far too good batting credentials at No.7. In the process of saving the Test, he also vindicated Williamson's decision to pick him as the third spinner and more importantly an all-rounder instead of Neil Wagner.
Ravindra had looked tight and solid with his footwork in the first innings too until Jadeja got one ball to spin viciously off a rough patch. They tried it again in the second innings, without any luck. The left-hander survived an LBW via a review and batted out 91 deliveries to finish what Williamson called a ‘memorable debut'. India pulled out all stops despite the unresponsive surface to get all the way to the final pair, but just couldn't break Ravindra's stoic resolve. Not even in fading light and rising tensions.
“I think we did a great job inspite of that [the pitch not having any bite] to prise out nine wickets on the last day. But yeah it was tough. We expected it to be tough in Kanpur, I've played here so I know the wickets here can be tough but this was probably lower and slower than anything I've ever experienced here,” Dravid said. “We had quality guys who were able to make a game of this, otherwise this would've easily become a dull draw.”
In the end, for all of India's desperate and effective scrambling in the final session, they could only have four points to take home. In the end, the pitch held on, and so did New Zealand.