At the start of day four, India were so far ahead in the first Test that they just needed to bat as they had in the innings thus far and get to the point where New Zealand would have to break records to beat them. New Zealand have never successfully chased a target batting last in India. The best total they have ever managed in the fourth innings of a Test in India is the 272 for six, in a drawn match in Ahmedabad in 2003.
Day four was about setting up the victory and India went about it in a way that you would expect from a professional cricket team. There was intent, not least evidenced by the approach of Virat Kohli who clearly had attacking the bowling at the forefront of his mind. He top edged a sweep and was caught on the boundary for the second time in the match. It is easy to be critical of batsmen who get out to attacking shots, but then people will be critical of them scoring too slowly.
Cricket is a great game because of the way it so brilliantly reflects risk and reward. A batsman is more likely to get out going for shots that will bring him runs. A bowler is often more likely to get scored off if they are bowling balls that have a high chance of taking a wicket. The shot that Kohli played was the right one played at the right time. He just didn't play it very well. Next time he tries that same shot to the same ball it will fly to the boundary for four.
With Kohli gone and Cheteswhar Pujara and Murali Vijay both falling in the seventies the responsibility for setting up the declaration fell to Rohit Sharma. This is a pretty settled Indian team, the only real discussion is whether to go into a game with four bowlers or with five. With the ascension of Ravichandran Ashwin to the status of true all-rounder there is an argument for batting him in the top seven and leaving out a batsman.
The man who would be under pressure if India went for the extra bowler would be Rohit. Despite his obvious talent he has underachieved in Test cricket. He started with a glut of runs against the West Indies, after his first two matches he had made two hundreds in two innings. From there onward he has struggled. In the following 17 Tests heading into the second innings against New Zealand he had managed 693 runs at an average of 25.
That he is so talented, that he can change games in a session, that he has been successful in other international formats, has meant that he is still in the mix, but the time has come for Rohit to start playing like he did on day four in Kanpur regularly rather than on occasion. There is a ready made solution to his exclusion from this team in picking the extra bowler and backing Ashwin to get runs - Ashwin already has a near identical batting average to Rohit and has twice as many hundreds.
On day four, Rohit played the perfect innings in an attempt to set up a speedy declaration scoring 68 runs at healthy strike-rate of 73. He was calm and assured and had a clear plan that was well executed. He looked more at home than a student returning to his parents house after a semester away with three bags full of washing for their mother to sort out for them.
The declaration came when Ravindra Jadeja made a half century, his second significant contribution with the bat in this game. He has made 92 runs in this match, the best aggregate in a game for him in his Test career. If Rohit had not done so well it could well have increased calls for his omission from the team. As it is, the Mumbai batsman seemed to be struggling with a leg injury so we will have to see if he is fit for the second Test, he will certainly be picked if he is.
As ever with a declaration it came later than the majority of those watching wanted. India had enough runs long before their declaration came, but that is never the only consideration. The longer India batted the more worn the pitch would become, the more tired the New Zealanders would be and the longer their bowlers would have to rest. They gave themselves four sessions and 135 overs to get 10 New Zealand wickets. If they can't get them in that time they were never going to.
As New Zealand lost both openers inside the first four overs it looked like India could have batted a while longer and still won at a canter. Martin Guptill was out slogging a spinner on a turning track for a duck. The dismissal was a microcosm of his Test career.
Those two early wickets just underlined the task that faces New Zealand, but it could have been much worse. Ashwin had an lbw appeal against Taylor turned down that looked very out and then Umesh Yadav dropped a catch off the off-spinner that would have dismissed Kane Williamson.
Eventually Ashwin did get Williamson, his third wicket of the innings and his 200th in Tests. He is the fastest Indian bowler to get to that landmark, getting there in 37 Tests, nine fewer than his coach, Anil Kumble. Only Clarrie Grimmett who played for Australia between the World Wars has got to 200 Tests quicker, he reached the landmark in 36 games.
It was Ross Taylor that brought the fourth wicket of the day when he failed to ground his bat when running into his crease to be dismissed run out to leave his team 56 for four. With Taylor and Williamson both gone it is a matter of how quickly India win, not whether they will.
New Zealand reached the close on 93 for four and they will need either rain or a miracle to avoid defeat.
First Published On : Sep 25, 2016 18:27 IST