Ind v NZ: Ashwin’s six-wicket haul skittles Kiwis

Despite registering its highest total of the series, New Zealand was floored by R. Ashwin’s six-wicket spell as the Kiwis face a gargantuan task to save the last of the three Tests and avoid a whitewash against an on-song India.

Ashwin’s six wickets helped India dismiss New Zealand for 299, earning the host a lead of 258 runs.   -  AP

Despite registering its highest total of the series, New Zealand was floored by R. Ashwin’s six-wicket spell as the Kiwis face a gargantuan task to save the last of the three Tests and avoid a whitewash against an on-song India.

Ashwin turned the tide in India’s favour with a brilliant spell that started just before lunch and continued in the second session after the Kiwi openers had registered a hundred-plus stand in reply to India’s 557 for seven declared. At the end of the third day’s play at the Holkar Stadium, India was 18 for no loss with a handsome lead of 276 runs.

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Ashwin’s six wickets helped India dismiss New Zealand for 299, earning the host a lead of 258 runs. But the follow-on was out of question once New Zealand had made both the India spinners toil virtually the whole day.

With Martin Guptill finally getting some runs under the belt and Tom Latham continuing with his reliable vigil at the crease, the New Zealand batting for the first time appeared to pose a serious threat to India’s bowlers. However, Ashwin, after a lacklustre spell early on, forced Latham into closing the face of his bat early and accepted a dolly upon return. This was fifteen minutes before lunch.

Soon after lunch, Ashwin managed to get rid of skipper Kane Williamson for the third time in as many innings this series. The dismissal was similar to the first innings at the Green Park in Kanpur, with Ashwin forcing him to cut one that was pitched wider of off-stump, and the batsman playing it on to the stumps.

Ross Taylor’s terrible run continued as the veteran offered catching practice to Ajinkya Rahane in the slips in Ashwin’s next over. And the reliable catcher, who had let one slip off Guptill’s edge to deprive Mohammed Shami of a deserving wicket early on in the morning, didn’t disappoint. The duo combined less than four overs later, when Luke Ronchi was coerced into an edge outside off. In between, Ashwin had managed to deflect a well-time drive by Ronchi on to the wickets at the non-striker’s end to leave Guptill reeling outside the crease.

Having lost five wickets for 30 runs in barely an hour’s play, New Zealand had an uphill task of batting deep into the day and avoiding the follow-on. James Neesham, making his maiden appearance in the series, then found some support from B.J. Watling and Mitchell Santner. The successive 50-plus stands for the sixth and seventh wickets, with Neesham backing himself and timing his strokes sweetly, meant the visitor avoided the embarrassment of being bowled out cheaply.

However, both handed their wickets to Ravindra Jadeja after getting their eyes in. While Watling offered Rahane his third catch of the innings, Santner inside-edged one that turned into him to Virat Kohli at leg-slip.

Neesham was looking good to march towards being the first Kiwi centurion of the series. However, his impressive knock ended abruptly, thanks to an error of judgment by umpire Kumar Dharmasena in the last session. Neesham missed an attempted sweep off Ashwin, bowling with the new ball, and Dharmasena upheld an appeal despite the batsman having been hit outside the line of off-stump and the ball turning further away.

That wicket completed Ashwin’s 20th five-wicket haul. The offie, who had earlier in the day overtaken Ishant Sharma’s tally of 209 wickets to climb up to the eighth place in the list of India’s highest wicket-takers in Tests, soon ran out Jeetan Patel at the non-striker’s end.

This time, however, the ball didn’t really deflect off his fingers. It was actually a dropped catch of Matt Henry on the return but the ball headed towards the stumps and Patel’s bat was left hanging in the air while trying to return to the crease. The Kiwi innings eventually folded up one run shy of the 300-run mark, when Cheteshwar Pujara accepted a skier by last-man Trent Boult at mid-wicket.

That left India openers to see off six overs in the day’s play. Gautam Gambhir, who had spent better part of the last session in the dressing room after hurting his shoulder in the field, did walk out with M. Vijay. But the comeback man did his shoulder in again while diving to complete a second run and had to head back into the dressing room. Pujara then saw off the last three overs in Vijay’s company.

Gambhir’s injury wasn’t the only concern for India in the brief littler period. Vijay – just like Jadeja a day earlier – was officially cautioned for running on to the danger areas of the pitch. He will have to be careful on the fourth morning to become the second Indian batsman to be fined for the same offence in the match.