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India v New Zealand

Did India’s day-four post-tea sluggishness cost them the first New Zealand Test?

India were left disappointed after they failed to bowl New Zealand out
by Shashwat Kumar 3 minute read

As Ravindra Jadeja prepared to bowl the final ball of the 98th over, the whole of India drew a collective breath.

Between overs, billions of fans had seen the umpires engage in discussions with the players. At times, it was to tell them that the light was deteriorating. On other occasions, it was to inform them that the sun had just peeped out and had allowed a few more overs to materialize.

Jadeja fizzed through his run-up and landed the ball on a spot – like he usually does. Ajaz Patel planted his front foot and blocked the ball with a straight bat. A moment later, the umpires conferred among themselves, deciding that the light was no longer good enough to continue.

The players then indulged in their post-match pleasantries and the crowd, breathless after a manic end, regained some sort of semblance of calm in the stands. A brief moment later, though, many began questioning how India had let a game that was seemingly under their spell meander for so long? Was it the inability of their bowling attack to pick wickets early on the fifth day? Or was it another top-order collapse on the fourth?

The answer, however, might be slightly more complicated. Not because there were several factors that could’ve tilted the game in India’s favour. But also because India treaded on a very fine line in the post-tea session on the fourth evening. On the stroke of tea, India lost Shreyas Iyer – a batter who had dominated their essay till then. At the time, India wanted to consolidate, make the game safe and then harbour hopes of a declaration.

To an extent, they fulfilled that task at the start of the third session. Axar Patel and Wriddhiman Saha stuck to their guns stoutly and fashioned a solid partnership. As the minutes ticked by, though, they failed to up the gears. They ambled along and allowed the Kiwis to take time out of the game.

Axar and Saha batted till the end of India’s innings, eventually adding 67 runs for the 8th wicket. However, in the opening 15 overs after the tea interval, they only scored 31 runs. At that stage, the Kiwis were content to spread the field. The lack of intent, thus, stuck out quite sorely.

After tea, Kane Williamson, to his credit, read the game and deployed a defensive field. While there were a couple of catchers around the bat, it wasn’t the sort of field you would usually have for a lower-order batter, especially on a pitch that had just begun playing tricks. The bowlers also looked discernibly exhausted.

It might not have been wise to play expansive shots regularly, considering India’s predicament. However, the pair’s inability to rotate strike and push ones and twos was something that proved crucial in the end. Remember, the field was spread out. Yet, they pushed and prodded with a dead bat on most occasions.

At the post-match presentation, Ajinkya Rahane glowingly talked about how they wanted to bowl around four overs at the end of the fourth day. But on a pitch that wasn’t helping the bowlers regularly, that might not have been the most prudent approach. On the fifth day, when Ajaz and Rachin Ravindra set out their stall, India were counting down the number of overs left. Perhaps they were also wondering what could’ve been had they been more proactive a day earlier.

Cricket is a game of fine margins. India have made a habit of snatching any opportunity on the final day. They’ve planned declarations superbly and then bowled teams out, both home and away. This time, though, their indecisiveness and sluggishness after tea on the fourth day eventually cost them the Test. Their players, while walking back to the dressing room, might have been thinking on similar lines.

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