Stand-in captain Ajinkya Rahane and his temporary deputy Cheteshwar Pujara’s saga of failures continued as India was put on the mat by New Zealand bowlers, primarily Tim Southee, reducing the hosts to 84 for five at lunch on the fourth day of the opening Test here on Sunday.
First innings centurion Shreyas Iyer (18 not out off 51 balls) and the experienced Ravichandran Ashwin (20 not out off 35 balls) were trying to stem the rot as India’s overall lead extended to 133. They have so far added 33 runs for the sixth wicket.
While the pitch is still not an unplayable one, India’s spinners might be able to defend anything in the range of 180 as it is expected that a lot of balls will keep low even if there won’t be many turns on offer.
However, on the fourth morning, Southee, a practitioner of conventional swing bowling, took a master class on how to bowl on an unresponsive Indian track classically setting up batters.
But before Southee got into the act, Kyle Jamieson (8-3-21-2) targeted Cheteshwar Pujara’s (22 off 33 balls) ribcage, getting one to rear up on this dead track and it brushed India no 3’s gloves into the hands of keeper Tom Blundell.
Rahane (4 off 15 balls) is out of form and the world knew that. The best way to create pressure was to cut down on singles and for 13 balls, he struggled to get a run.
Then a gorgeous inside-out cover drive off Ajaz Patel (9-2-29-1) seemed like helping him break the shackles.
However, Patel, who has looked way below Test class, produced his best delivery of the match. An arm ball that was fired in with the angle caught Rahane plumb in front trying to play a forward defensive prod.
Mayank Agarwal (17) did all the hard work in the first hour but then Southee (10-2-27-2) set him up with deliveries that came into him from a good length spot as he played with a closed bat-face.
Then he pitched on on the same spot only to Agarwal’s horror, it shaped slightly away and he had committed to a closed bat face. The result was a regulation catch to Tom Latham in the second slip.
For Ravindra Jadeja (0), Southee used the width of the crease with an angular delivery that wrapped him on the pads. At 51 for five, Ashwin joined Iyer and played some attacking strokes including a straight drive off Southee to calm the tense dressing room.