Ashwin’s Test best seals 3-0 for India
Indore (India), 11 Oct – India completed a 3-0 whitewash in devastating fashion as a seven-wicket haul from R Ashwin shot New Zealand out for 153 in their last innings of the series. India declared just under an hour from tea, after Cheteshwar Pujara had completed his eighth Test hundred, to set New Zealand a target of 475 and give themselves a day and a half to take 10 wickets. They only needed 44.5 overs, as New Zealand lost nine wickets for 115 runs in the post-tea session.
Ashwin’s figures of 7 for 59 were his best in Test cricket, as were his match figures of 13 for 140. He picked up his 21st five-wicket haul, his sixth ten-wicket match haul, his seventh Player of the Match award and seventh Player of the Series award – fourth in a row – as well. There probably isn’t a more influential cricketer anywhere in the world today. Certainly no one has played a bigger part in India securing the No. 1 Test ranking, a feat they got to celebrate when Virat Kohli was handed the ICC Test championship mace at the end of the match, in front of a capacity crowd in Indore.
Set a similar task last year in another dead-rubber Test, on a similar slow turner at Feroz Shah Kotla, South Africa chose to block their way to a draw. They didn’t succeed, but they did make India toil for 143.1 overs. New Zealand, having until now given India a harder time on this tour than South Africa did in theirs, adopted an entirely different approach and collapsed spectacularly.
Their two most accomplished batsmen, Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor, exemplified this approach. Both came out looking to attack Ashwin, their tormentor through the series, and ended up playing a part in their own undoing.
Williamson hit Ashwin for three fours in his first two overs, either side of tea, but in that time also gave the bowler enough of a clue that he was looking to step across his stumps and play him with the turn as much as possible. He shuffled across again to the eleventh ball he faced from Ashwin, premeditatedly, and a flatter, quicker one turned in and trapped him in front. Like he had done to Kumar Sangakkara on the 2015 tour of Sri Lanka, Ashwin had dismissed Williamson four times in four innings.
In his first over at the crease, Taylor jumped out and hit Ashwin over the top for a four and a six off successive balls. As Ashwin’s spell continued, he stepped out again to whip him over midwicket, and then drove him against the turn through the covers. Having gone to 32 off 24, though, he chanced a sweep off a ball that was too full for the shot. It sneaked under his bat and bowled him.
Luke Ronchi, James Neesham and Martin Guptill all fell in the next seven overs, the latter two to Ravindra Jadeja, and it seemed almost certain that the match wouldn’t go into a fifth day. BJ Watling and Mitchell Santner hinted that it just might, while putting on 24 for the seventh wicket, but Ashwin came back to break their partnership, bowling over the wicket to the left-handed Santner and beating him with natural variation. Coming forward to defend, Santner inside-edged the ball into his pad and then onto the stumps.
India didn’t have to wait too long for the eighth and ninth wickets, but Watling and Trent Boult briefly raised the possibility of their having to come back on Wednesday to take the tenth, by putting on the longest partnership of the innings. They stuck around for 10.1 overs, causing India a bit of frustration – Jadeja bowled a 45kph donkey drop to Boult, Ashwin dragged down a legbreak to Watling – and threatening to take the fourth day into an extra half-hour, before Boult came down the track to drive Ashwin and popped back a waist-high return catch.
Cheteshwar Pujara finished with a century and three fifties in the series © BCCI
India declared halfway through the morning session, one ball after Pujara brought up his hundred by helping a short ball from James Neesham to the fine leg boundary. It was a fitting way to reach the landmark, given that the area behind the wicket had fetched him 57 of his runs and six of his nine fours, with the lap-sweep and late cut his go-to shots against the spinners. Having gone to lunch batting on 50 off 98 balls, he had sped away to score 51 off 50 in the second session. At the other end, Ajinkya Rahane helped an unbroken fourth-wicket stand of 58 hurry along at 6.44 an over, stepping out to play his favourite chips down the ground and inside-out drives.
Ahead by 276 overnight, India had only extended their lead by eight runs when M Vijay was run-out by a brilliant piece of fielding from Guptill in the eighth over of the morning. In walked Gautam Gambhir, who had retired hurt late on the third evening with a shoulder injury. His re-entry sparked an immediate upsurge in India’s run rate, as he took frequent singles against New Zealand’s one-day fields, and pounced on anything remotely loose, his standout shot a drive drilled past extra-cover off Boult.
Gambhir’s urgency rubbed off on Pujara as well. He ran as fast as his troubled knees would take him, ending up with a dirt-streaked shirt from all the times he had to dive into the crease, and looked outside his usual repertoire of shots, even jumping out of his crease at one point to flat-bat Boult back over his head.
The pair added 76 for the second wicket before Gambhir fell for 50 off 56 balls, chipping Jeetan Patel to short extra-cover. Kohli, the first-innings double-centurion, fell in the sixth over after lunch, given lbw looking to sweep Patel although replays suggested the ball may have struck his pad outside the line of off stump.
With nine overs to bat out before tea, New Zealand lost one wicket, Umesh Yadav going around the wicket in his first over and attacking the stumps to get Tom Latham lbw playing around his front pad. New Zealand were 38 for 1 at tea. They probably wouldn’t have imagined that it would all be over after just one more session.