| Cheteshwar Pujara and Ravichandran Ashwin, on Sunday |
Bangalore: The Indians, while playing at home against a side like New Zealand, are almost always in the driving seat, the opposition being ruthlessly run over in every department.
The first two days of the ongoing Bangalore Test had triggered hopes of an equal contest. But at the end of Day III’s play, it’s the same old picture again. The visitors have managed to pull themselves down and the hosts are sharpening their blades for yet another victory.
After pacer Tim Southee’s fascinating spell — 9-2-29-4 — in the morning had seen New Zealand take a slender-but-morale-boosting lead of 12 runs over the Indians, the shambolic performance of their batsmen over the next two sessions have almost negated that good work.
For the record, Southee became the highest wicket-taker for the visitors in the sub-continent with an innings haul of seven wickets.
But before Southee could sizzle, Virat Kohli completed his second — the first at home — Test century.
The New Zealand batsmen failed to kill time, something which was a must in this Test which has been played in an impressive pace. Had they managed to neutralise the time factor, runs would have automatically come.
But they turned out to be easy preys for Ravichandran Ashwin, who took five wickets for the fifth time in his seven Test career. Pragyan Ojha and pacer Umesh Yadav also chipped in two wickets apiece as the visitors lost nine wickets in the last two sessions of the third day to end at 232, with the last pair at the crease.
While Jeetan Patel was at the crease batting on 10, giving him company was Trent Boult, who was yet to open his account.
Unless something extraordinary happens, the hosts should be able to wrap up the opponent innings and the two-Test series on a pitch that has so far provided assistance to both the spinners and pacers.
But not everything is over if the Black Caps have an optimistic outlook. The highest successful chase by the Indians at the Chinnaswamy Stadium has been 207, against Australia in 2010. New Zealand have already taken a 244-run lead.
However, the possibility of that happening is as remote as Zaheer Khan scoring a triple century. The Indians are expected to have ample time to chase the target. One assumes that they will not be as jittery as they were in the first innings against the New Zealand pace attack.
Sunday saw Ashwin in devastating form with the ball. Bowling with a lot of gumption and flight, he allured the batsmen to fall into his trap. After Umesh had snared the wickets of the two openers, Brendon McCullum and Martin Guptill, with his spirited bowling, Ashwin got into the act. He dismissed Kane Williamson in his first over when he drew the batsman forward to get an edge to Virender Sehwag.
New Zealand captain Ross Taylor started off well by driving Umesh through the covers, but perished in a similar fashion like he did in the first innings. He missed the ball while trying to sweep Ojha and found himself trapped in front of the wicket.
Ashwin continued to ask questions with his probing line and got his second wicket in the form of Daniel Flynn. The left-hander had looked comfortable against Ashwin, cutting and pulling him for consecutive boundaries, before he edged one to Sehwag.
New Zealand’s downslide came when James Franklin lost his patience and tried to heave Ahwin through the off-side. But the ball turned after pitching just outside the off-stump to give ’keeper Mahendra Singh Dhoni an easy stumping. He got his last wicket of the day when he turned the ball square to castle Southee.
Interestingly, it was not only in bowling that Ashwin shone for India on Sunday. Trailing by 82 runs, India’s overnight batsmen, Kohli and Dhoni, failed to negotiate the new ball. Southee was the wrecker-in-chief as he snared four wickets within a span of 15 deliveries, leaving India at 320 for nine. That India could reduce the deficit to only 12 runs was because of the last-wicket partnership between Ashwin and Umesh. The duo compiled 33 runs, with Ashwin scoring the bulk of them (28).
Earlier, starting the day on 93, Virat flicked two deliveries to the fence to reach his second Test century. Unlike the overwhelming emotions he showed when he reached his maiden hundred, earlier this year, in Australia, Kohli was more reserved as he sought to go about with the business.
However, his resolve was broken when an error in judgement cost him his wicket. Shouldering arms to a Southee ball, which was intelligently bowled with a scrambled seam, Kohli was trapped in front of the wicket.
Captain Dhoni went on with his job, hitting two boundaries in a Bracewell over, before Southee trapped him in the front to pick up his 50th Test wicket. Dhoni could only add 16 runs to his overnight total.