A New Zealand collapse. A Ravichandran Ashwin five-for and a win with a day to spare. It was just another day of cricket in this Test series. There was nothing that would have surprised the fans as India romped to a 321-run win over the Black Caps on day four of the Indore Test. India went about winning the third and final Test with ruthless efficiency. There will be those that will say Virat Kohli should have enforced the follow-on, and it was an option for him. But it isn’t the only option. As it was, Kohli and his team sealed a whitewash series win with a day to spare.
This was a good pitch for batting. There was every chance that had India asked New Zealand to bat again, they would have made a better match of it second time around. India’s bowlers had been in the field for a full day. It was hot and they would have been weary. Batting again gives the bowlers a chance to rest and further tires the New Zealanders by keeping them in the field.
While the pitch was still in good shape at the end of the New Zealand innings, India batting on it again put more wear in it and give India’s spinners more to work with. Batting last in India is very hard and it is something that New Zealand have shown is a struggle for them in the first two Tests. If New Zealand batted well enough to go past India and set a target to chase, it would be India that would be having to face the spinners in the fourth innings.
Then there is the time that was left. When India bowled out New Zealand on the evening of the third day there was still two full days left in the this match. 180 overs. Even after India had batted again, thereby resting their bowlers, tiring New Zealand, putting more wear into the pitch and ensuring their opponents batted last on a pitch that has some turn in it, there was 135 overs left. That is a day and a half of Test cricket. Four and half sessions is more than enough to get 10 wickets and there are all the advantages to this move mentioned above. As it was, India didn’t even need two full sessions as their well-rested attack blasted New Zealand away.
The enforcement of the follow-on has become a bit old-fashioned. With the increase in scoring rates, it has become easier to set up a victory without the need to enforce the follow-on. In the last ten years, there have been 121 times that a team could have enforced a follow-on and teams have done so only 44 times. Teams that enforced the follow-on won 75% of the time, teams that didn’t won 65% of the time. Modern teams would argue that resting bowlers in the cluttered international schedule that exists in the 21st century is well worth that 10% drop in the probability of winning.
India didn’t hang around in the 49 overs that they batted in their second innings, scoring at 4.4 runs an over to reach 216 for three before they declared. The two men most responsible for that were Gautam Gambhir and Cheteshwar Pujara. Both have had time out of the India side in recent times, although Gambhir’s time in the international wilderness was far longer than Pujara’s.
This innings was a perfect illustration of what Gambhir can do. A counter-punching opening batsman, this situation was tailor-made for him — batting against a tired and disheartened New Zealand attack and licence to play his shots. It took just 54 balls for Gambhir to bring up his fifty and there were some outstanding stokes in his innings. There was one cover drive that he played off Trent Boult, which went to boundary so fast a certain former Indian coach may well have described it as a round of ammunition with a small pyrotechnic charge in its base.
Gambhir fell just after he reached his fifty, caught in the covers while attempting a lofted drive off Jeetan Patel. Whether his innings of 50 in the second innings and 29 in the first are enough to get the nod in the upcoming Tests against England will be as much to do with the fitness of Shikhar Dhawan and KL Rahul as anything else, but he did not look out of place back in the Test team.
At the other end, Pujara continued his remarkable form since his dropping from the Test team during the tour of the West Indies. Since his return home, he has made 826 runs in Duleep Trophy and Test cricket, including three centuries, at an average of 137. And that is in five matches.
On Tuesday, Pujara made 101 not out from 148 balls. It was the second fastest of his eight Test hundreds and was perfectly paced for his sides needs. He reached his first 50 from 96 balls and made his second 50 from 51 balls. If people thought that Pujara was a one-paced grinder he showed that there is far more to his game than that. Ever since he made his debut, there has been a feeling that he can be the successful number three that India have looked for since Rahul Dravid retired in 2012. The evidence of the last month is that Pujara has found a way to bat risk free but proactively. If he can do that on a consistent basis, the spot is his for years to come.
When the declaration did come, it wasn’t long before India were emerging victorious. Umesh Yadav dismissed Tom Latham before the Indian spinners ripped apart the rest of the New Zealand top order and did a similar dismantling job on the tail-enders. It took on a familiar feel as Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja took their wicket-taking tally to 41 between them for this series. Ashwin got another seven wickets to go with the six he took in the first innings as he claimed the sixth ten-wicket match haul of his Test career.
The New Zealanders decided that they needed to attack the slow bowlers having tried to be more defensive in the series thus far. It didn’t bring them any more success as they crumbled to 153 all out as India won by 321 runs.
India have won this series 3-0, and they have been good value for that scoreline. Now the challenge will be getting a similar series result against the English who arrive at the end of this month for five Tests.