Cricket: Black Caps cling on for stunning draw against India in first test

Cricket: Black Caps cling on for stunning draw against India in first test

Under the cover of a dimly lit Kanpur sky, the Black Caps have pulled off one of New Zealand cricket’s greatest heists.

Tom Latham laid the plan, Will Somerville cased the scene, Rachin Ravindra stole the plaudits and Ajaz Patel was his getaway companion into the hazy night as the Black Caps stole a draw right from under the nose of the Indian fielders.

Or, perhaps, the Kiwis simply took what was rightfully theirs.

With just one wicket remaining, Ravindra completed a most memorable debut by steering the Black Caps to safety, with he and Patel blocking out 52 balls in a phenomenal rearguard to deny India, and save the Black Caps from defeat.

Never have New Zealand’s spinners contributed so little with the ball but so much with the bat.

Over after over, Ravindra and Patel saw off the world’s best spin bowlers, blocking, prodding and edging their way through another six balls, then anxiously waiting as umpire Nitin Menon checked the fading light via his light metre.

Over after over, Menon came back with unwanted news – the test continues. The sun even cruelly decided to pop back out from behind the clouds to extend the test further – only aiding to darken the Black Caps’ chances.

Finally, after Patel strode forward and firmly blocked a ball back to bowler Ravindra Jadeja, Menon checked his instrument, and delivered news that made the Black Caps beam, and India sigh in exasperation.

The game was over, everyone shook hands, and we were …. right back where we began the series, at 0-0.

But don’t let that static fool you. What had unfolded over five days was unforgettable.

Through four days of an enthralling first test, the Black Caps had matched India step for step, endlessly fighting and always finding a new entrance back into the mix just when it looked hope had been lost.

Hope had never looked more lost than in the final throes of day five.

A day that held hopes of glory at lunch turned into a fight for survival by tea, and ended with a desperation to avoid the dejection of defeat, which would have left the Black Caps down 1-0 heading into Friday’s second test in Mumbai.

It had all looked so promising two hours into the final day. Resuming at 4-1 with 280 further runs required for victory, Latham and nightwatchman Somerville batted unbroken through the first session, adding 75 runs.

While victory still required a significant acceleration, it was plausible, and with nine wickets in hand with two sessions remaining, further fight offered the chance to remove an Indian win from the equation.

However, after 110 balls of grind and 36 runs – what is it with New Zealand spinners and fourth-innings batting? – Somerville departed the first ball after lunch, hooking Umesh Yadav to long leg where Shubman Gill took a superb low catch.

Latham was joined by Kane Williamson and a careful 39-run stand was created, with the end goal in mind to get to the last session with a chance to take some risks and attempt to make history.

But Latham’s dismissal – throwing his head skyward after chopping on to Ravichandran Ashwin for a committed 52 off 146 balls -squashed that plan, and signalled the end of the Black Caps’ push for glory.

As the required run rate ticked above four an over, the Black Caps shut up shop, and soon the wickets started to tumble.

Ross Taylor taking 22 balls to get off the mark was an indicator of the change in intent, but he only lasted two further balls before he was bowled by Jadeja with the final ball before tea.

So, when the final session started with the Black Caps needing 159 runs at a required run rate of five, with just six wickets left, the decision to play conservatively was relatively simple, and made even more comprehensive when Henry Nicholls’ poor test continued with a fourth-ball lbw dismissal.

Five overs later, the one fearsome threat the pitch posed – balls staying low – conspired to remove Williamson. After 112 balls of watchful defence, for an ultimately irrelevant 24 runs, Williamson was trapped lbw by the dreaded delivery that stayed low from Jadeja, who wheeled off in a celebration that showed he had no doubts what result would follow.
He had failed to account for a sensational New Zealand debutant.

When Williamson fell, Ravindra arrived at the crease – and never left.

The 22-year-old never looked flustered as men fell around him – Tom Blundell, dismissed by Ashwin after a 38-ball stay, Kyle Jamieson, lbw to Jadeja after 30 balls, and Tim Southee, the same fate after just eight deliveries.

That left Ravindra standing in the middle with Patel, needing to survive as long as possible in the fading Kanpur light.

For 91 balls, Ravindra had repelled the Indian attack, and for 23 deliveries of his own, Patel did the same, and as the evening sky slowly turned to black, Menon provided the final verdict.

The day was dark, but New Zealand cricket has never been brighter.

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