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IND vs NZ, 1st Test, Day 5: Fortunes sway before India, New Zealand settle for thrilling draw

07:26 PM Nov 29, 2021 | S. Sudarshanan

There’s still about an hour to go. A minimum of 52 balls are to be bowled. Ajaz Patel strides out to the middle. He has to contend the pitch, the fading light and two of India’s, perhaps the world’s, best spinners in Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja.

A young Rachin Ravindra, on debut, is at the other end. He is one to make good first impressions; after all, he shone with the bat with a 70 batting at number four on his First Class debut. Yes, he is a batter who can bowl, but batted at seven and eight in the Kanpur Test.

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Patel and Ravindra, both players with roots in India, block, leave and prod their way for the next forty-odd minutes. They seem confident. Ravindra is obsessed with cricket. They say Patel is in many ways, former Sri Lankan spinner, Rangana Herath, who has his best Test batting average against India.

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Together, they are happy to play out maidens, almost unbothered by the crowd in whites - seven of them. An edge for four? Take it with a smile. A play and a miss? Shake it off and deal with the next ball.

LIGHTS, CAMERA…

The light is fading all along. Ashwin, Jadeja and Axar rush through the overs quickly. After every over, the umpires have the light-meters out - much to the delight of the tourists and to the dismay of the hosts. But every time it is bright enough to continue.

Captain Ajinkya Rahane shuffles the spinners in no certain pattern. He wants a wicket, India wants a wicket.

Ten minutes are left before the last mandatory over begins. Jadeja finishes three balls quickly. Changes the angle and bowls one. Goes back again to over the wicket.

Rahane runs to Jadeja, pausing the game. A small chat. Men around the bat. Crowd behind the hosts. Chirps, hoots.

And then Jadeja darts one. Patel, the New Zealand one, calmly defends. Survivs. Just like Test cricket.

Eight minutes to go. But light-meter says, good night. Rahane isn’t too happy. Ravindra and Patel are already on the move. Handshakes all around.

Prodding and defending their way, Patel and Ravindra ensure New Zealand and India head to Mumbai even stevens. 0-0. All to play for.

STRONG START

New Zealand began the day strongly. With night-watcher Will Somerville for company, Tom Latham added 79 for the second wicket. More importantly, the pair ensured the tourists end the first session wicketless.

Though a pacer was kept on from one end for the first hour, India didn’t use much seam bowling in the middle session. Out of the nine overs of fast bowlers, six were bowled by Umesh Yadav, one of which resulted in Somerville’s wicket. Ishant Sharma couldn’t trouble the batters much.

Both of them were absent from the bowling crease in the final session. India could have perhaps given Yadav a go. But the spinners were ensuring the over-rate remained high; the more the overs bowled, the more deliveries to dismiss the Kiwi batters.

The post-Lunch session saw New Zealand budge. Somerville couldn’t resist a pull. Latham couldn’t resist a cross-batted push away from the body outside off. Ross Taylor couldn’t counter Jadeja’s arm ball.

125 for four. 159 to win, six wickets in hand. A session to go.

THE SLIDE

Axar Patel doesn’t turn the ball a great deal but bagged a fifer in the first dig. He began the last session with Henry Nicholls’ dismissal. Soon Jadeja deceived Kane Williamson in the air, forcing him play the wrong line, and had him LBW. Surely the final nail. Four more wickets to go.

But then came the resistance. Tom Blundell, on his first tour to India, was first noticed in limited overs cricket for his aggressive batting. But it was time to buckle down and rein himself in. He had played 94 balls for his 13 in the first innings. Along with Ravindra, he kept whatever the Indians had to throw at them, at bay. Until bad luck struck. Blundell tried to work an Ashwin delivery round the corner but the ball bounced off the crack in the batting crease and dislodged the right bail.

A wicket after 55 balls for India. Ashwin and Jadeja, with Axar’s help, should run through the rest of the line-up now.

Kyle Jamieson faced 30 off the next 46 balls. He is no mug with the bat. One of the finer points that might have helped him edge Neil Wagner out of the XI, would have been his batting. But Jadeja’s quicker arm ball escape none. The tall Jamieson’s back pad came in the way of the ball and the stumps. Out, LBW.

Among active Test cricketers, Tim Southee is the leading six-hitter. That is not his only skill with the bat, though. He has five fifties to show in the format. He hit a four in his stay in the middle. But a sharp turner from Jadeja missed his defensive prod and had him plumb.

Apart from the overs, time was of essence. So, Southee opted for the DRS and was yet again given marching orders.

EPIC DRAW

India didn’t bowl all that bad. Perhaps Rahane could have had more attacking fields in the final hour, given the Black Caps had shut shop. But four of the last five pairs for New Zealand batted at least 30 balls. Two of them over 50 balls. Having done so, the tourists didn’t deserve to be on the losing side.

It was the first one-wicket drawn Test since Sri Lanka staved defeat in England at Lord’s in 2014. No mean achievement for the ‘perennial underdogs’.

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