Shreyas Iyer`s dream debut just got better as he followed his first-innings hundred with a fine half-century under immense pressure as India survived a collapse to reach 167 for seven at tea on the fourth day of the opening Test against New Zealand.
India`s overall lead is already 216, which could well be a winning score as Iyer (65 off 125 balls) forged two significant partnerships — 52 for the sixth wicket with Ravichandran Ashwin (32 off 62 balls) and 64 runs for the seventh wicket with Wriddhiman Saha (22 batting 69 balls), who is also fighting to save his place in the team.
This was after stand-in captain Ajinkya Rahane and his deputy Cheteshwar Pujara`s saga of failures continued as India were tottering at 51 for five in the morning session and then 103 for six when Ashwin left in the post-lunch session. But credit to Iyer, who once again displayed steely temperament on the way to his second 50-plus score in the match, hitting eight fours and a huge six over long off against Will Sommerville.
His best shot however was an inside out lofted drive off left-arm spinner Ajaz Patel. It was a difficult shot that was perfectly executed. It was followed with a square cut in the same over as Kane Williamson erred by bowling his spinners for way too long. That was proved when Tim Southee removed Iyer at the stroke of tea when he tried to pull one that was drifting down leg side.
Credit should also be given to Saha as he batted with an open-chested stance compared to his usual side-on which reduces the pronounced neck movement.
While the pitch is still not an unplayable one, India`s spinners might be able to defend anything above 180, as it is expected that a lot of balls will keep low even if there won`t be much turn on offer. However, on the fourth morning, Southee, a practitioner of conventional swing bowling, took a master-class on how to bowl on an unresponsive Indian track, classically setting up the batters.
But before Southee got into the act, Kyle Jamieson (13-6-26-3) targeted Pujara`s (22 off 33 balls) ribcage, getting one to rear up on this dead track and it brushed the India No. 3`s gloves into the hands of keeper Tom Blundell. Rahane (4 off 15 balls) is out of form and the world knows about that. The best way to create pressure was to cut down on singles and for 13 balls, he struggled to get a run.
Then, a gorgeous inside out cover drive off Patel (15-349-1) seemed to help him break the shackles. However, Patel, who has looked way below Test class, then produced his best delivery of the match. An arm ball that was fired in with the angle caught Rahane plumb in-front while he tried to play a forward defensive prod.
Mayank Agarwal (17) did all the hardwork in the first hour but Southee (15.2-3-48-3) set him up with deliveries that came into him from good length spot as he played with a closed bat-face.
Then he pitched on the same spot and, to Agarwal`s horror, it shaped slightly away and he had committed to a closed bat-face. The result was a regulation catch to Tom Latham in the second slip. For Ravindra Jadeja (0), Southee used the width of the crease with an angular delivery that wrapped him on the pads. At 51 for five, Ashwin joined Iyer and played some attacking strokes, including a straight drive off Southee to calm a tense dressing room.
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