Mumbai Test: NZ spinner Ajaz scripts dream return to ‘original home'

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Mumbai Test: NZ spinner Ajaz scripts dream return to ‘original home’
© Provided by The Indian Express

In the first Test in Kanpur, New Zealand left-arm spinner Ajaz Patel had unflattering match figures of 3/150 from 46.1 overs. In the second match in Mumbai, it took him only a couple of overs to bring India crashing down from 80/0 to 80/3. Those strikes included the coveted wickets of Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli for ducks.

And to think it all began with a missed stumping. Ajaz did the classic slow left-armer’s trick on Shubman Gill, drawing him out of his crease with flight, beating him with dip and turn, and leaving him stranded with no hope of making it back. But wicketkeeper Tom Blundell failed to gather the ball.

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Ajaz tossed it up again, and this time Gill played a half-hearted push, edging it to slip.

Mumbai Test: NZ spinner Ajaz scripts dream return to ‘original home’
© Provided by The Indian Express (Twitter/BLACKCAPS)

The fun was only starting for Ajaz. First ball of his next over, he did Pujara in on the forward press with one that carried on with the incoming angle. New Zealand reviewed only for the ball-tracker to say it was headed just past leg stump.

Wonder what came over Pujara now. He skipped out, looking to clip only his fifth delivery against the turn through midwicket. The ball spun sharply past his legs and bat to strike the stumps.

Twice in succession, Ajaz had been denied, and twice in succession, he had had his man next ball.

Four deliveries later, Ajaz trapped Kohli in front on the forward defensive. One could say it was pad-bat-pad, one could say it was bat-pad. Umpire Anil Chaudhary felt Kohli was gone leg-before, and there was nothing conclusive for third umpire Virender Sharma to rule otherwise.

At that stage, Ajaz’s figures were an unreal 12-7-14-3. After he claimed Shreyas Iyer with a bat-pad catch to the ’keeper, they read 21-9-46-4. Dream stuff in the city of dreams, which is also the city of his birth.

“It is kind of what dreams are made of – to be here and to go out there and pick up four wickets on the first day is pretty special,” Ajaz said.

Dangerous from the start

The signs were there in Ajaz’s very first over. He was brought on as early as the eighth. Off the last two balls of that over, Mayank Agarwal – who ended the day unbeaten on 120 – thought he had the length to pull. Twice, the ball gripped, spun and kicked at him. A surprised Agarwal ended up hitting the first one to the bowler. The second one was top-edged and hung in the air for a while, but fell well short of deep backward square-leg.

Mumbai Test: NZ spinner Ajaz scripts dream return to ‘original home’
© Provided by The Indian Express (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

Not only did Ajaz vary his pace, he also used the crease well. He’d go wide to get a steep angle into the right-handers, and turn it sharply across them from there. He’d switch to a straighter release from close to the stumps to target the area around off-stump.

He still dragged it short now and then and was taken for runs, but it was a vastly improved performance from Kanpur. Especially when the second spinner, offie William Somerville, was again unimpressive and limited to eight expensive overs.

After their struggle to make any impact in Kanpur, regular skipper Kane Williamson – who had to sit out the second Test due to a tennis elbow problem – had spoken about his spinners needing to get some overs under their belt in order to build rhythm. Having done so, Ajaz beautifully exploited the extra bounce and purchase available from Day One in Mumbai.

A bat-pad dismissal, like Iyer’s, was just not an option in slow and low Kanpur, but there could be many more of them at Wankhede Stadium. Ajaz would surely want his name on some more at his original ‘home’ ground.

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