New Delhi: India’s disappointments against New Zealand in Test cricket continued as Kane Williamson’s men successfully batted out 98 overs in the fourth innings to earn an unexpected draw against India at Kanpur’s Green Park Stadium.
Amid dominant bowling spells on the fifth and final day from India’s spin trio of R. Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Axar Patel, New Zealand allrounder Rachin Ravindra survived 91 balls and remained not out on 18 with tailender Ajaz Patel until the close of play.
While the first session of Day 5 had belonged to New Zealand, with opener Tom Latham and nightwatchman William Somerville in a 76-run partnership, India’s spin attack triggered a middle-order collapse in the second session.
With this draw, the two-Test series, which forms part of the 2021-23 cycle of the World Test Championship, remains at 0-0. The second Test is scheduled to take place from 3-7 December at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium.
Rachin Ravindra makes childhood India tours count
A surprise selection as New Zealand opted against playing left-arm pacer Neil Wagner, Rachin Ravindra was expected to play the role of an allrounder.
Ravindra struggled with his left-arm spin during the first innings, as Iyer and Jadeja duly punished his numerous poor deliveries, and was dismissed cheaply with the bat on Day 3.
However, he came back strong at the business end of the game. Throughout his 91-ball innings, Ravindra scored just two boundaries but showed his quality with his defensive technique and footwork, ensuring that he would not succumb to the Indian attack’s pressure.
As such, this Test match was the first major indication of the skills Ravindra had developed on Indian pitches during his youth cricket days.
Born to Indian parents and named after Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid, Rachin Ravindra reportedly spent an extensive period of time at a cricket facility in Anantapur, Andhra Pradesh.
Shreyas Iyer’s dream debut causes selection headache
On a pitch that was slow and offered little bounce from the first day itself, two batsmen stood out from the rest across both innings — not only for their lengthy stay at the crease but for their big scores — New Zealand’s Tom Latham and India’s Shreyas Iyer.
While Latham is well known for his ability to play spin and averages well above 40 on Asian pitches, Iyer was more of an unknown quantity, having not played a significant amount of first-class cricket since the start of the pandemic.
However, aside from an ugly hoick towards long off early in his innings on Day 1, Iyer looked by some distance the most composed, versatile and aggressive of India’s batsmen.
The Mumbai-born, former Delhi Capitals captain replicated his Ranji exploits with scores of 105 and 65 and was adjudged Player of the Match.
However, India’s senior-most batsmen, vice-captain Cheteshwar Pujara and stand-in captain Ajinkya Rahane, performed particularly poorly against New Zealand’s bowlers, failing to capitalise on solid starts on the first day, and triggering a top order collapse on the fourth day.
With captain Virat Kohli returning for the Wankhede Test and Iyer asserting his case to become a middle order mainstay, Rahane’s position has attracted increasing scrutiny as he averages less than 20 in Test matches played this year.
Looking ahead to Mumbai
The second Test will be the Wankhede Stadium’s first since December 2016, when India beat England by an innings and 36 runs on a pitch that was largely flat and batting friendly for the first four days before favouring spinners on the final day.
If conditions later this week are similar to five years ago, both teams may need to make significant lineup and tactical changes.
For New Zealand, a pitch that offers less turn and more consistent bounce than in Kanpur means that the spin of Ajaz Patel, William Somerville and Ravindra will be mostly ineffective.
Bowlers who can maintain consistent lines and lengths over long economical spells are essential, which makes Neil Wagner an automatic selection.
Known for his dangerous short balls and leg-side field placements, Wagner will need to be the crucial support act to pacers Tim Southee and Kyle Jamieson, who wreaked havoc on India’s top order.
On the other hand, India’s batting depth has been tested by the Kiwi attack and mostly come up short, in large part due to Pujara and Rahane’s dire form, although it remains to be seen who Kohli will replace.
India will also have to decide whether to drop a batsman to accommodate an extra seam bowling option, with Mohammad Siraj and Prasidh Krishna waiting in the wings.
Despite India’s failure to bowl New Zealand out, they must continue to back a spin trio that has taken a combined 93 wickets in Tests this year.
Brief scores: India 345 all out (Shreyas Iyer 105, Tim Southee 5-69) and 234-7 decl. (Shreyas Iyer 65, Kyle Jamieson 3-40) drew with New Zealand 296 all out (Tom Latham 95, Axar Patel 5-62) and 165-9 (Tom Latham 52, R. Ashwin 4-40)
(Edited by Saikat Niyogi)