At stumps on day three of the second India-New Zealand Test in Kolkata, India’s overall lead stood at 339 runs. Given the frailty in New Zealand’s lower order, and that the pitch at Eden Gardens had variable bounce, it was never a doubt that the hosts would not win this match. The question as such was about when, and not if.
There has been a lot of debate about attendance during this second Test, and that the Eden Gardens looked empty. The truth however is that nearly 15,000 have come to watch the match everyday, just that the sheer size of this ground has not impressed upon this fact.
Even so, it is a reduced attendance by Kolkata’s standards. Usually a home Test does garner about 25000-30000 people every day. Could the build up to Durga Puja be the reason? It was fitting then that homeboys Wriddhiman Saha and Mohammed Shami helped end the match quickly on Monday. Now, the festivities can begin in earnest.
All was dependent on the end of the Indian innings thereafter. Would India declare? Well, with every passing Test, this topic is becoming more interesting. For all the talk about his aggressive persona, Virat Kohli tends to play it cool whenever the time to make this decision comes about. It happened first in the second Test in Sri Lanka, then earlier this year in West Indies at St. Lucia. And now for two matches running against New Zealand, India have batted for longer than needed.
No, it is not to say that this is a defensive trait in the Indian captain. Instead it is a calculative ploy. With time on their hands, the team management tends to let the game flow to a point from where there are only two possibilities – win or draw. Then the bowlers push themselves, almost in a backbreaking manner, to force the issue and narrow it down to one outcome – a win for India.
Declaration as such wasn’t on the cards at all, but for a second time in the match, Wriddhiman Saha batted as per his team requirements. If the first innings was about putting India in a gainful position, then in the second innings, it was about driving that same advantage home. With two half-centuries in his home Test then, let it be said here, there is no competition for India’s first-choice Test keeper-batsman at the moment.
Chasing an improbable 376, New Zealand openers batted out an hour before lunch. Did it raise hope for the outcome of the match in their favour, a slight shift towards the draw if not an Indian win? Perhaps. Tom Latham and Martin Guptill showed for a brief period that this pitch was conducive for a fighting batting performance.
A grind, with both bat and ball, was about to ensue. 55/0 at lunch, and there was no inkling that the match would wrap up before stumps in the next two sessions. Even when the Kiwis were placed at 135/3, with drift from the Indian spinners accounting for Guptill and Henry Nicholls, it was still a question mark, a matter of inducing a collapse on a day four pitch. As with the target, this was an improbability.
And yet it happened, in awe-striking fashion, as the visitors lost seven wickets for 62 runs in the final session. This is where credit must go to the Indian captain and his bowlers. Kohli can sight victory on the horizon, like a bloodhound smells its prey from afar, and then the obvious thing to do is move in for the kill. Feeding off the crowd’s energy, he goaded his bowlers into taking those wickets.
Tom Latham’s wicket was a huge bonus. The thinking bowler that he is, Ashwin beat him outside the off-stump, and again, that additional drift lured the batsman in, inducing that edge. Thereafter it became the Shami show, as he bowled with the Kolkata crowd at his back.
Through days one to four, collectively speaking, this has been a Test match where the pacers brilliance on an atypical sub-continental wicket has been beautiful to watch: from the movement Matt Henry and Bhuvneshwar Kumar generated, to the hard work put in by Trent Boult and Neil Wagner. Shami provided the final flourish. Maybe, the lbw against Mitchell Santner was marginal, going down leg. But the ball that destroyed BJ Watling’s stumps was a peach.
When Kumar chipped in, knocking back Jeetan Patel’s off-stump in a cartwheel, the performance was complete. Soon the victory too was. And so, India regained the no.1 ranking in Test cricket, and in a proper manner, like Pakistan had done it by playing some wonderful cricket.
It was this squad’s goal to get to that ranking by March 2017 while playing some consistent cricket. The goal is accomplished early into the home season, and this is where the consistency bit will kick in, as England and Australia book their flight tickets for India.