Ravindra, Ajaz frustrate India as New Zealand hold on for hard-fought draw

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India 345 (Iyer 105, Gill 52, Jadeja 50, Southee 5-69, Jamieson 3-91) and 234 for 7 dec (Iyer 65, Saha 61, Jamieson 3-40, Southee 3-75) drew with New Zealand 296 (Latham 95, Young 89, Axar 5-62, Ashwin 3-82) and 165 for 9 (Latham 52, Jadeja 4-40, Ashwin 3-35)

Two great spinners and their hugely accurate understudy pitting their skills against one of the slowest Indian Test pitches of recent times. A debutant and a No. 11 joining forces to try and eke out a draw. Nervous glances at light-meter readings.

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All these ingredients came together in a dramatic final session as an engrossing Test match between the No. 1 and 2 teams in the world concluded with bad light ending play 12 minutes before the scheduled close, with India one wicket from victory.

And while the light situation may have helped them, New Zealand had to earn their great escape, with Rachin Ravindra and Ajaz Patel seeing out 52 balls in a tense, unbroken last-wicket stand.

They may have stopped just short of bowling India to a win, but R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Axar Patel put in a tremendous effort in challenging conditions. The fifth-day pitch in Kanpur showed little sign of deterioration, and its slowness and lack of carry continued to negate the threat of its low bounce. There wasn’t a single bat-pad catch among the 36 wickets that fell over the five days, and only one was a catch in the slips – that too to a helmeted slip fielder stationed unusually close to the bat.

It came down to how well the spinners could attack the stumps, and few do this as well as Ashwin, Jadeja and Axar. India needed six wickets at the start of the final session, and they grabbed five – all lbw or bowled – with Jadeja striking three times with quick, stump-to-stump balls on a perfect length laden with the threat of natural variation that could test either edge of the bat.

He had removed Ross Taylor on the stroke of tea with one that slid on with the arm, and six overs into the final session he took out Kane Williamson – who saw out 112 balls to make 24 – with another low skidder that New Zealand’s captain played back to. Around these two key dismissals, New Zealand also lost Henry Nicholls, Tom Blundell – who was bowled when a defensive shot rolled back onto his stumps off a footmark – Kyle Jamieson and Tim Southee one after another, leaving India one wicket from victory with more than 40 minutes still remaining, in theory. One good ball was all they needed, but on this day it wasn’t to be.

Ravindra’s batting talent had won him a spot ahead of another allrounder who bowls left-arm spin in Mitchell Santner, and a left-arm seamer in Neil Wagner. The first four days had brought Ravindra no wickets in 16 overs, and a first-innings score of 13.

Now, however, was his time. Jadeja had bowled him with a ripper out of the footmarks in the first innings, and he alternated between flighted balls in that area and quicker ones at the stumps. Ashwin kept switching from over the wicket to around to try and mess with his alignment. Ravindra, though, showed he had the judgment of length and the footwork to be able to survive this examination, and got the little bit of luck that any batter in his situation would need, particularly when a shooter from Jadeja snuck under the bottom of his vertical bat and hit his back pad. Nitin Menon gave him out on the field, but a review showed the ball had struck him outside the line of off stump.

Ajaz, meanwhile, showed he could defend, keeping out 23 balls. The closest India came against him was when an Ashwin carrom ball from over the wicket straightened past his inside edge to hit his pad, but their review of the not-out decision showed the ball had pitched marginally outside leg stump.

There was probably less than an inch in it, but such were the margins of this Test match.

As big a role as Ravindra and Ajaz played in saving the game, the result was also hugely down to Tom Latham and the nightwatchman Will Somerville, who batted out the entire first session in a second-wicket stand lasting 32.1 overs.

Ravindra, Ajaz frustrate India as New Zealand hold on for hard-fought draw
© BCCI Tom Latham and nightwatchman Will Somerville put up a 76-run second-wicket stand © BCCI

Latham carried on from where he left off in the first innings, batting in a bubble of pared-down efficiency, trusting in his back-foot game, defending right under his eyes, and shelving almost every shot other than the clip off the legs and the sweep. Apart from one failed and slightly desperate review from India – when Jadeja turned one sharply to beat his inside edge and strike his back pad well outside the line of off stump – India barely ever breached that bubble.

Somerville played the part of annoying nightwatchman to perfection, frustrating India by facing, and surviving, more balls than his top-order partner. While India caused him problems – as a control percentage of 71 would suggest – they didn’t translate into clear chances. Umesh and Ishant Sharma found his outside edge twice each, but none of them carried to the cordon.

After all their pre-lunch frustrations, it took India just one ball of the second session to break the partnership. Umesh began from around the wicket to Somerville with short leg and leg gully in place. The short ball came as expected, and Somerville took on the hook only to hit it uppishly to Shubman Gill sprinting in from long leg.

That was the start of an engrossing six-over spell from Umesh, who attacked the stumps with leg-side catchers in front of the stumps and engaged Williamson in a tense contest. He got through it, but along the way enjoyed a bit of luck to survive what may have been the ball of the Test match; it reversed in, hit the seam, and straightened off the deck to go past the outside edge, all from a tight line that forced Williamson to play.

Though it always seemed improbable that New Zealand would go after their target, there was a brief period when Latham and Williamson showed what seemed like outright urgency. Latham missed a premeditated reverse-sweep, and Williamson stepped out to hit Axar over the top. Latham had only scored two of his 35 pre-lunch runs through the off side, but he showed a greater willingness to try and play Axar’s left-arm spin against the turn as well.

The slowness of the pitch and the quality of the bowling, however, dampened the scoring rate. Ashwin replaced Axar, and struck in the sixth over of his spell. He had tested both edges through the day by varying his angles, release positions, and seam orientations, all while maintaining an impeccable length, but the wicket ball wasn’t a particularly threatening one. It was wide of off stump, and it kept slightly low to bowl Latham off the inside edge as he looked to punch with an angled bat.

Williamson and Taylor then downed shutters as India’s bowlers probed away, with the latter taking 23 balls to get off the mark. As soon as he’d done that, however, Jadeja dismissed him with a classic Jadeja delivery; bringing the batter forward to defend, and turning less than expected to beat the inside edge and strike the front pad.

The wicket broke the door open for India’s spinners, but light, Ravindra and Ajaz ended up having the final say.

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