India five wickets away from win after top order, Ashwin shine


New Zealand were 140 for 5 at stumps on day three, chasing a mammoth 540 after Ajaz Patel’s 14 wicket-haul

Stumps New Zealand 62 and 140 for 5 (Mitchell 60, Nicholls 36*, Ashwin 3-27) need another 400 runs to beat India 325 and 276 for 7 dec (Agarwal 62, Pujara 47, Ajaz 4-106)

Ajaz Patel bagged 14 of the 17 Indian wickets to fall in the Mumbai Test, but the hosts continued to boss the game, setting New Zealand an improbable 540 after declaring on 276 for 7. R Ashwin then cracked open the visitors’ top order, leaving his side five wickets away from victory at stumps on the third day.
Ajaz had finished with 14 for 225 – the best match figures against India in Tests – and finally found a modicum of support from Rachin Ravindra, the other left-arm fingerspinner, who picked up three wickets.
However, there wasn’t as much support on the batting front for Daryl Mitchell, who led New Zealand’s resistance with an assured 60 off 92 balls. Mitchell, who batted at No.3 again in the injury-enforced absence of Kane Williamson, was either right forward or right back to India’s spin trio. He often jumped out of the crease and upset the lengths like how Mayank Agarwal had done earlier in the match.

Mitchell put together 73 for the fourth wicket with Henry Nicholls, who was contrastingly skittish at various points. He missed an inswinger from Umesh Yadav in the 26th over and survived an lbw because India decided against a review of the on-field not-out decision. Three overs later, Wriddhiman Saha missed a stumping chance, but the reprieve didn’t matter in the end as Jayant Yadav had overstepped. Soon after, Ashwin beat Nicholls’ outside edge three times in a row with a delightful cocktail of flight, dip, turn and angle.

Ashwin was in similar top form with the new ball. He pinned Tom Latham lbw and had Will Young caught at short leg either side of the tea break. Ross Taylor threw his bat at every ball before a hare-brained slog-sweep off an Ashwin offbreak saw him holing out for six off eight balls.

Axar Patel then tightened the screws when he had Mitchell slicing a catch to deep cover. Two overs later, an awful mix-up resulted in the run-out of Tom Blundell for a duck. Ashwin and Axar continued to threaten both the edges, but Nicholls and Ravindra somehow closed out the day without any further damage.

It was Agarwal and Cheteshwar Pujara who had set the tone for India’s third-day dominance by adding 30 runs in the first five overs. India’s batters would hit full tilt in the afternoon session, rattling off 126 runs in 21.1 overs before ultimately declaring the innings at the fall of Jayant’s wicket. Axar remained unbeaten on 41 off 26 balls, claiming four of the 11 sixes India struck in the innings. He had propelled the lead past 500 when he clobbered Ajaz over long-on for six.

Shreyas Iyer (14) and Gill (47) were as adventurous as Axar against spin, engaging in reverse-sweeps and down-the-track swipes. That they had to cushion to do so was largely down to a 107-run opening stand between Agarwal and Pujara.

Agarwal looked set for another hundred before Ajaz had him slicing a down-the-track loft to long-off. Pujara then fell three short of a half-century when Ajaz gleaned sharp turn and bounce to have him nicking off to slip where Taylor plucked a low catch.

Before Ajaz made the incisions, Tim Southee did his best impression of Neil Wagner by tirelessly peppering the openers with bouncers from around the wicket with a packed leg-side field. Southee also pinged Pujara on his elbow guard and then Agarwal on his unprotected wrist during a spell of 8-1-17-0.

Ravindra then showed off his bowling chops, dismissing Gill, Virat Kohli and Saha.

Having seen off fairly sharp spells from Ajaz and Kyle Jamieson, Kohli had targetted offspinner Will Somerville by stepping out and pumping him over midwicket for six. He then pulled Ravindra over the same region for four, but the allrounder found slow turn and bounce to have Kohli playing on for 36 off 84 balls.

New Zealand will need a lot more from Ravindra, with the bat, if they are to salvage something from this Test.

Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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