IND vs NZ, 1st Test, Day 3: Axar unleashes his wizardry, wrecks New Zealand

Axar Patel claims his fifth five-wicket haul in seven innings as India takes control of the first Test. India was ahead by 63 at stumps, with Shubman Gill having been dismissed bowled for 1.

Axar Patel celebrates the wicket of Tim Southee during the third day of the first Test between India and New Zealand at the Green Park International Stadium in Kanpur on Saturday.   -  SPORTZPICS

After two days of fast-bowling exhibition, Axar Patel brought back the familiar sight of wreckage by spin to give the home team the upper hand in the first Test here. The left-arm spinner continued his dream run in Test matches, claiming his fifth five-wicket haul in seven innings as New Zealand was bowled out for 296 in the first innings, failing to build on its foundation set by the openers.

India was ahead by 63 at stumps, with Shubman Gill having been dismissed bowled for 1 by an excellent delivery from Kyle Jamieson that pitched on a good length and snuck through the defences.

Gill’s dismissal was the odd stumble by India as Axar, the star of the day, spun a tight web around the batters. Two of Axar’s wickets were off deliveries bowled from around the wicket that straightened after pitching. The right handers played for the angle created by his round-arm action and paid the price for it. The left-handers, on the other hand, were beaten by the sharply turning deliveries from over the wicket. It helped that the pitch assisted turn. All in all, the left-arm spinner was quite a handful and overshadowed his spin partners R. Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, securing the spotlight for himself.

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He was under-bowled a bit in the morning as Ashwin got the preference to try and break a nagging partnership. A couple of wickets did fall, but a first-innings break was well within New Zealand’s grasp at lunch.

AS IT HAPPENED

The innings decayed, however, once Axar started getting into his rhythm in the afternoon. Ross Taylor (11, 28b, 1x4) was the first to depart, playing for the angle and edging behind. Taylor would have been dismissed even earlier had substitute wicketkeeper K. S. Bharat not snuffed a stumping chance (Wriddhiman Saha hadn’t taken the field due to a stiff neck). Left-hander Henry Nicholls tried to sweep a delivery from outside the off-stump and was dismissed LBW. And before long, the patient Tom Latham (95, 282b, 10x4) also departed, failing to put bat to ball to a short-of-a-length delivery which he came down the track to smother, and this time Bharat made no mistake.

The floodgates had opened. Debutant Rachin Ravindra played a couple of nice strokes to the boundary but was then bowled by Jadeja, the ball sneaking through as he tried to drive. After tea, Jamieson (23, 75b, 1x4) and Tom Blundell (13, 94b) resisted for a while in a dull phase of play when just one boundary was scored in 15 overs and the run rate hovered around 1. Axar came to India’s rescue again as Blundell stayed back in his crease to defend a delivery and was bowled by one that stayed too low. The rest of the innings withered away quickly, Ashwin securing three wickets for all his efforts.

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Despite creating the odd chance, India’s bowlers had to wait for a bit for their rewards in the morning as the ball kept low and fortune continued to favour the batters. Will Young (89, 214b, 15x4) could have been dismissed in the third over of the day by Ishant Sharma but the ball, after taking the edge of the bat, flew through the gap between first and second slip. The persistent Ashwin got Latham to edge the ball but it fell short of first slip. Later, Latham was trapped in front with a nicely flighted delivery that pitched on leg-stump and turned sharply to hit his left thigh. The umpire’s not-out verdict wasn’t reviewed; replays suggested Latham would have been dismissed for 66.

After thwarting India for a long time, the low bounce came to its aid when Young tried to defend Ashwin’s delivery from the back-foot and edged behind for 89. The ball kept low and took the edge of the bat en route to wicketkeeper Bharat. Bharat was confident enough to compel his team-mates to review the not out verdict, and Ashwin finally had a reward after toiling for more than 20 overs.

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He was trying hard to find a way to get wickets, creating various angles and trying to fox the batters with his drift to work alongside his two stock deliveries – the off-spinner and the one that went on straight. He also tried to bowl from around the wicket to the right-hander, releasing the ball from close to the stumps. He got into trouble with his follow-through as he was stepping on the danger area on the pitch - the umpire Nitin Menon had a lengthy chat with him and his captain on the field.

Latham’s batting was the other highlight of the morning. After showing discipline and caution on Day Two, Latham opened up to play a few strokes. His drive off a short-of-a-length delivery from Ishant early on was serene, and he uncharacteristically came down the track to loft Axar over the head of the mid-on fielder for a four. He also played a sublime late cut off Umesh Yadav later on to collect a boundary through third man.

Williamson, the captain, played a couple of nice strokes, too, off Jadeja, but didn’t last long. He was to fall to Umesh, who trapped him in front at the stroke of lunch. His team was to lose eight more wickets for 99 runs.

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