- Publish Date
- Monday, 29 November 2021, 6:54AM
By: Niall Anderson
Oh to be a touring cricket team in India, where you can play exceptionally well for four days yet still need to produce something special on the fifth to claim victory.
Such is life for the Black Caps after four gripping days of their first test in Kanpur, where they have battled and scrapped like few Kiwi sides before them, only to still be faced with a monumental task to come out victorious on the final day.
An undulating day four ended with the Black Caps at 4-1 with Tom Latham and nightwatchman Will Somerville at the crease, chasing 284 for victory after India declared just before stumps.
They lost Will Young in the four overs before play finished, trapped lbw by Ravichandran Ashwin for two. Young tried to review the decision, but the allotted 15 seconds had passed just before he signalled for the review, and as he trudged off, it was shown to be yet another shocking decision from umpire Virender Sharma, with the ball missing leg stump.
With a minimum of 90 overs available on the final day, and now a man down, the Black Caps will not only need to make history – no overseas team has chased down a target as high as 284 in the fourth innings in India – but will have to do so at a decent clip, with a run rate in excess of three an over required to knock off the remaining 280 runs.
Perhaps victory won't be the initial target. Based on their defensive batting mindset for most of day three, which possibly stemmed from the difficulties in scoring on the low, slow and unpredictable pitch, survival could be the first instinct, before evaluating their situation later in the day.
Either way, New Zealand still have a sniff of their first test victory in India since 1988 – a good enough reason to throw caution to the wind and go for the win – and that sniff is the result of one of the best seam bowling displays seen in Indian conditions, with Kyle Jamieson and Tim Southee combining for 14 wickets.
Yet the visitors will still have mixed feelings after a day where they came so close to ripping through the Indian batting lineup, only to be denied by some middle-order resistance which may have won the game for the hosts.
Resuming at 14-1, leading by 63 runs, India collapsed in the opening session, tumbling to 51-5 as a path to New Zealand glory opened wide.
Jamieson and Ajaz Patel had removed India's experienced – and out-of-form – pair of Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane, before Southee continued his remarkable test with a double-wicket maiden which threatened to swing the match New Zealand's way.
First to go was Mayank Agarwal, who played at a ball that nipped away on a perfect line and flayed it to Latham at second slip, before two balls later Ravindra Jadeja was dismissed by another of Southee's deep bag of tricks, trapped lbw by a ball that hooped into the left-hander.
India's lead was just 100, and they were in strife, with just one all-rounder left, a wicketkeeper who hadn't kept due to a stiff neck, and three bowlers.
But they also had first-innings centurion Shreyas Iyer still at the crease, and that all-rounder happened to be Ashwin, owner of five test centuries.
Also, after heavy workloads from Jamieson, Southee and Patel, skipper Kane Williamson had to utilise the less-threatening Rachin Ravindra and Somerville, allowing the Indian duo to settle, and reach lunch at 84-5.
Williamson's decision was understandable before lunch, but puzzling afterwards, when Ravindra continued and seven overs passed before Jamieson was handed the ball.
Sure enough, with his second ball he made Ashwin play onto his stumps for 32, but a partnership of 52 had stretched India's lead past 150.
Keeper Wriddhiman Saha, absent on day three due to a neck injury, was then dropped on seven, with a powerful swipe off Somerville just bursting through the fingers of a leaping Henry Nicholls at short mid-wicket. It was a tough chance, but hands went on heads and eyes went skywards, and the next ball went for six, just to rub it in.
Iyer made it a debut to remember by adding 65 to his first-innings century, and by the end of day five he may be lauded as the man who saved India from defeat.
He departed in the final over before tea, gloving a Southee delivery down leg to keeper Tom Blundell, but by then the lead was 216, and Saha (61 not out) and Axar Patel (28 not out) made it three consecutive 50-run partnerships to put New Zealand on the back foot and set them a challenging fourth-innings target, a target that became even tougher with Young's dismissal.
Just how tough? New Zealand have only won two tests in Asia when batting last – beating Bangladesh in 2008 (chasing 317) and Pakistan in 1969 (chasing 82).
Now begins the quest to make it three.