New Zealand 235 (Latham 52, Jamieson 49, Shami 4-81, Bumrah 3-62) and 132 for 3 (Blundell 55, Latham 51) beat India 242 (Vihari 55, Agarwal 54, Pujara 54, Jamieson 5-45) and 124 (Boult 4-28, Southee 3-36) by seven wickets
New Zealand pranced to a 2-0 series whitewash – and No. 2 in the Test rankings – as their bowlers took 47 minutes to take the four remaining India wickets and then their openers made the 132-run target look easier than it was in conditions that continued to be torturous for the batsmen. The depth in New Zealand’s five-man seam attack outshone India’s three-man party, which was missing Ishant Sharma and also had to deal with an injured Mohammed Shami on the third day.
However, even a full-strength India attack would have probably made it only marginally more difficult once the exceptional and relentless bowling display by New Zealand meant they had to chase under 150. Only twice has a team won a Test by 10 wickets despite falling behind in the first innings; New Zealand came pretty close. That they were not chasing any more was down to the depth in their attack, which didn’t give India even a mini spell where they could relax in the third innings.
On the third morning, though, New Zealand needed just the two men to bowl India out for 124. In the process Tim Southee also hit Shami on the shoulder with a bouncer, which delayed his introduction, and Umesh Yadav released any pressure there might have been with boundaries in each of his first three overs. Shami had a go for three overs at first-change, but with the score at 46 for 0 at lunch, he had had enough.
That doesn’t take away, though, from the torturous conditions for the batsmen. That is exactly why New Zealand would have wanted to dismiss India for as little as they could on the third morning. They succeeded with the task with the first three wickets. Hanuma Vihari was a tad unlucky that he tickled one down leg for BJ Watling to take. It is perhaps not unlucky on flat surfaces, but here when you are watching out for seam, swing, bounce and trying to cover your off stump, it seems like a rather cruel way to get out.
There was nothing cruel with how Rishabh Pant got out, pushing repeatedly and defensively at deliveries outside off. This was just the time for Pant to play a typically aggressive innings to try to unsettle the bowlers, but he played low-percentage defensive shots outside off: the best you do is middle them for a dot, and the worst is to edge them with no chance of them flying over the slips. When he did that three balls in a row to Trent Boult, the third one took the edge. Was Pant playing not to the conditions but all the criticism and axes he has faced for seemingly “irresponsible” shots in the past? Only he will know.
Shami showed the right intention when he went for a slog, but he ended up hitting into the wind, and also New Zealand had a deep forward square leg in place just for that. India’s lead read 115 at that time, but Ravindra Jadeja and Jasprit Bumrah proceeded to frustrate New Zealand. Jadeja’s six back over Boult’s head was special while Southee kept swinging it past the bat of Bumrah. To the last ball of an over, Bumrah wanted to run to hand over the strike to Jadeja, but Boult had done well to cramp the batsman up with a short ball. It went nowhere, Boult fielded well in his follow-through, and Kane Williamson did better to be there to collect the throw as it missed the stumps.
New Zealand corrected their mistake from the second morning and asked for a heavy roller, which settled the pitch down for 20 minutes or so. In that period, Yadav provided a few loose balls to get New Zealand going. Toms, Latham and Blundell, showed remarkable application and intent, putting behind them every play and miss, every blow on the body, and every bit of prodigious seam movement. Whenever a scoring opportunity provided itself, they were up for it, especially when it came to running aggressively.
The ninth over of the innings underlined how difficult the conditions were. Bumrah swung and seamed each of those balls from a length, drew an inside edge from Blundell that Pant’s dive couldn’t catch up with, and nearly bowled Latham twice. The batsmen made no mistake on any of those occasions.
However, every time a bowler overpitched or provided width on a short ball, the two pounced on it, going back to lunch unseparated, having scored more than the last four India wickets added on the morning. India came back without Shami for the second session, and against a deflated side, the Toms took the opportunity to lend some stylish touches to the series win. Drives down the ground and on the up, punches off the back foot, cuts, domination of spin, all made an appearance.
Latham ended up with twin fifties, Blundell with the joint-highest score of the match, 55, and just to underline the conditions, India picked up three wickets towards the end with short balls and still-prodigious seam movement.