New Zealand’s wicketkeeper Tom Blundell tries to stop the ball as India’s Wriddhiman Saha looks on during four of the first test.
New Zealand will need a historic and heroic performance on the final day to score a test win that looked a lively possibility early on day four in Kanpur.
The Black Caps will start day five on Monday (5pm NZ time) needing another 280 runs for just their third test victory in India – or to bat 90 overs for a meritorious draw – with nine wickets remaining.
At stumps on day four of the first test of the two-match series, New Zealand were 4-1 in their second innings in pursuit of 284 to win after India declared their second innings at 234-7 late in the final session.
There was a controversial moment just before stumps when NZ opener Will Young was given out lbw for 2 by umpire Virender Sharma to off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin. He and Tom Latham discussed whether they would ask for a television review of the decision but took a second too long before seeking a second chance.
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As Young trudged off, television replays showed the ball would have clearly missed his leg stump and he would have remained if he’d reviewed before the 15 seconds allowed expired.
India have only lost one home test when scoring 345 or more batting first in 70 games and it will require a monumental display of technique, concentration and some good fortune from the world test champions to become the second team to do so on a Green Park wicket which India’s spinners enjoyed operating on in NZ’s first innings.
Adding to that weight of history, New Zealand have only won two tests in Asia batting last – against Pakistan in Lahore in 1969/70 and over Bangladesh in Chittagong in the 2008/09 season.
Debutant Shreyas Iyer was the key figure for the hosts as he followed his first-innings century with 65 off 125 balls.
Iyer had partnerships of 52 for the sixth wicket with Ashwin (32) – when their side was teetering at 51-5 before lunch – and 64 for the seventh with wicketkeeper-batter Wriddhiman Saha (61 not out) as India’s middle and lower order frustrated New Zealand.
There were two missed opportunities for NZ which also played a big hand in their realistic hopes of an upset win slipping away.
Openers Tom Latham and Will Young both fell short of centuries as India turned up the pressure in the first test.
Iyer was on one when he edged a ball from Tim Southee through a gap in the slips cordon, while Saha had a life when he slogged off-spinner Will Somerville in the air and a leaping Henry Nicholls at short midwicket couldn’t grasp the chance despite getting his hands to it with India 120-6 and leading by 169 runs.
India’s middle and lower-order batting defiance mean mammoth efforts by Kyle Jamieson and Southee look set to be in vain.
The Black Caps pace duo ignored the doctrine that only spin bowlers should prosper at Green Park with six wickets between them.
On a dry, slow, low wicket that favoured India’s world-class spin-bowling trio, Jamieson and Southee ripped into India’s top order to have the hosts staggering when leading by just 100 with only five wickets in hand.
Southee, who took five wickets in India’s first innings, captured 3-75 off 22 overs while Jamieson, who reached 50 test wickets quicker than any other New Zealander when he bowled Shunbman Gill late on day three, took 3-40 off 17 overs.
But there was a notable absence of pressure when that duo were not bowling.
Former England opener Graham Gooch famously remarked that batting against a New Zealand bowling attack apart from Richard Hadlee was like facing the Ilford Second XI.
Gooch was highly inaccurate as NZ won the 1986 series in England not just through Hadlee’s heroics, but the Black Caps spin trio of Ajaz Patel, Will Somerville and debutant Rachin Ravindra couldn’t muster enough consistency or magic moments to back up their quick bowling team-mates. That trio delivered 42 overs in India’s second dig with just Patel’s wicket of captain Ajinkya Rahane their only scalp while conceding 115 runs.
New Zealand did manage to bat for 142.5 overs in their first innings and while disheartened when bowling late on day four, may take some encouragement from the way the wicket offered little fear for the home side.
But spinners Ashwin and Axar Patel looked menacing with men around the bat in the four overs before stumps, with Ravindra Jadeja waiting in the wings.
India 345 and 234-7 (S Iyer 65, W Saha 61 not out; K Jamieson 3-40, T Southee 3-75) v New Zealand 296 and 4-1.