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26 Nov 2021
On the back of yet another five-wicket haul from Axar Patel and sustained bowling from the other end, India bounce back remarkably well and dismissed New Zealand for a mere 296 runs when they were looking set for the big one on the board.
The Blackcaps had a 151-run opening partnership but right after the fall of the skipper Kane Williamson and Tom Latham, there was no one to absorb the pressure and defend repetitive good balls from Indian spinners.
India find a way, again
New Zealand had all the momentum with them at the start of the third day of the first Test in Kanpur but people who follow Indian cricket at home would never write them off at any point in time and the Blackcaps learned it the hard way.
They started the day comfortably placed at 129/0 and they could have a real dominating position for themselves if their batsmen could bat with the same concentration and clarity as their openers did on the second day.
Turned out, they were in for a ride on the third day as both Latham and Young looked fidgety and batted with nerves. Ravichandran Ashwin, in particular, played beautifully with angles and flight and troubled both of them to eventually dismiss Young.
Latham was lured into playing sweep shot off very slow delivery dragged completely outside of the off stump, but he was lucky to survive.
However, as soon as Williamson departed, there was a flurry of wickets and what was appearing to a be solid batting effort for the Blackcaps, were reduced to a mere capitulation as Axar Patel strolled to yet another five-wicket haul.
They earned a lead of 49 runs that could well prove to be a decisive lead considering the nature of the pitch and the length of time left in the game.
Things happening fast for Axar
Axar Patel could debut in the longest format earlier in the year against England only due to a finger injury to Ravindra Jadeja and as players of highest order do, he has grabbed the opportunity with both hands. First, he tormented the England batting lineup but his bowling was not rated highly as most of his wickets came on surfaces that were rated “beaches” by the purists of the game.
The first innings against New Zealand here was a different case though. He was not given the first opportunity to attack the batsmen and neither was he the first choice of weapon for the Ajinkya Rahane.
He has also been seen through the prism of Ravindra Jadeja for offering like for like qualities on the field but the bowling effort in Kanpur on the third day was his moment of coming out of anyone’s shadow and marking a name for himself with the red ball in hand.
He was accurate as ever to both Williamson and Latham on the third day and was rewarded with the wicket of Ross Taylor when the pitch offered him a sharp turn and bounce from the line of the stumps. There was no looking back from that moment as he kept on tormenting the batsmen one after another and New Zealand were sinking deeper and deeper in search of his natural variation and stock balls.
He has taken his fifth five-wicket haul in only the fourth Test and could be finding it easy at the big stage. The challenges will get steeper and steeper for them but he is doing all things right at the moment and making the most of the opportunities.
Pressure mounting on Gill
If one player Axar Patel should see to stay humble amid all the success he is having, he should follow the career path of Shubman Gill, who first could do no wrong as he pulverised Mitchell Starc at the Gabba in Australia, to becoming a man full of doubts about himself while batting the middle.
He was staying beside the ball in Australia to have open access to the off side and the move paid dividends as he was able to cash in on any sort of width offered by the Australian bowlers. After returning to India, when he was bamboozled by a reverse swinging James Anderson, he tweaked his method by coming right behind the ball to protect his stumps.
In process of correcting one aspect of his game, he started getting a lot of LBW dismissal and has come back to the beside the line of the ball method in this game.
He has been bowled in both innings by Kyle Jamieson on close to similar deliveries and he will have his tasks cut out in the second Test of the series. There were reports that the team management views Gill as a middle-order option and the kind of vulnerability he has shown on a good length and full balls around off stump, the move should not be discarded as wrong and short-sighted one at this moment.
Looking forward to the fourth day
India have an upper hand in this game with a lead of 63 runs and nine wickets in their hands. They would rely on Mayank Agarwal and Cheteshwar Pujara to at least see through the initial burst from Tim Southee and Jamieson. If they succeed in thwarting their pacers in the first hour, it could set up for an enthralling finish from the Indian batting unit which will bat in pursuit of runs at a brisk pace to enforce a result.
On the other hand, the Blackcaps should believe and say to themselves that they are just a couple of wickets away from putting India under enormous pressure. They are without Virat Kohli and dismissing two out of Pujara, Mayank and Ajinkya Rahane will make the game wide open for them as well.
All three results are very much possible going into the penultimate day of the first Test between the World Test Championship finalists in the first meeting after the big game and that tells a good story about how these sides have developed themselves as a Test-playing side over the last few years.