Axar leads the way as bowlers put India back on top

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Axar Patel continued his dream run in Test cricket by picking another five-wicket haul as India fought back with the ball on day three of the first Test against New Zealand in Kanpur.

The visitors began the day with Tom Latham and Will Young unbeaten in a 129-run opening stand. But with the pitch offering a little more assistance for the spinners on Saturday, India turned things around with the ball quickly as they often do in home conditions.

Latham also added a brief partnership with skipper Kane Williamson for the second wicket, but New Zealand then lost nine wickets for 99 runs as Axar and Ashwin Ravichandran led the charge.

India ended the day with a 63-run lead, with the wicket of Shubman Gill close to stumps providing a shot in the arm for New Zealand.

Here’s a session-by-session recap of the day:

Morning session

India started the day with Ishant Sharma and Ashwin Ravichandran bowling in tandem. Openers Tom Latham and Will Young continued from where they left off on day two and were resolute in defence. They stayed low, played with soft hands and picked up the odd boundary.

But Ashwin found his rhythm quickly and it was clear that there was sharper turn on offer. Soon enough, the off-spinner got one to stay low and skid on to get Young’s outside edge. The right-hander poked at it and KS Bharat, who was keeping in place of Wriddhiman Saha who had a stiff neck, did brilliantly to complete the catch. Umpire Nitin Menon had said not-out but DRS showed a clear spike.

Ashwin went on to bowl a lengthy spell in the opening session, sending down 11 overs in succession. And one of the highlights of his spell was the disagreements he had with umpire Menon. Ashwin, like he did on day two, kept going across the umpire in his follow through from round the wicket. He wasn’t landing in the danger area but perhaps the umpire had an issue with him obstructing the non-striker in his follow through.

A big moment in the game came when Latham was on 66. Ashwin struck the left-hander in front and India, despite having two reviews in the bag, didn’t go upstairs. The replay then showed three reds and Ashwin was left visibly frustrated. It was the second incorrect decision by umpire Menon in the morning session.

Latham and skipper Kane Williamson then built another impressive partnership for New Zealand but India landed a major blow at the stroke of lunch. After Axar Patel bowled the first over with the second new ball, Umesh Yadav came from over the wicket and trapped Williamson in front. A review was taken but it showed three reds. It was a fine delivery that nipped back in and caught the right-hander at the crease.

At lunch: New Zealand were 197/2 in 85.3 overs.

In the session: 28.3 overs, 68 runs, two wickets.

Post-lunch session

With their tails up after getting the key wicket of Williamson just before lunch, India came to the field with great intensity after the break. Umesh continued his spell with the second new ball but it was Axar who was troubling the batters more.

Ross Taylor struggled against Axar’s stock delivery – the arm ball from over the wicket. The left-arm spinner kept attacking the right-hander before getting one to straighten to take the outside edge. Wicketkeeper Bharat, who had missed a stumping opportunity early in the session, completed another excellent catch.

Henry Nicholls didn’t last long as he attempted a sweep and got caught in front. But it was Latham’s wicket soon after that was crucial for India. The left-hander had shown tremendous discipline to get to 95 off 281, but he premeditated and stepped out to Axar and got stumped. Once again, substitute Bharat did fine work with the gloves.

It was a top spell from Axar as he remained patient and kept hitting the right areas.

Rachin Ravindra, on debut, tried to show intent but he was cleaned up by Ravindra Jadeja. However the phase after that is what New Zealand might go on to truly regret. The visitors shut shop after the quick wickets and allowed the Indian bowlers to dictate terms. Tom Blundell, batting at No 6, got to 10 off 73 at tea and the lack of intent he showed played into India’s hands.

Not only were the New Zealand batters not searching for boundaries to break the shackles and push back, they weren’t even trying to rotate the strike. It was plain dead defences for the most part, which is hardly ever the right option against spinners in India.

At tea: New Zealand were 249/6 in 118 overs.

In the session: 32.3 overs, 52 runs, four wickets.

Post-tea session

Blundell continued to spend time at the crease without disturbing the scoreboard and soon enough, Axar cleaned him up for 13 off 94. The ball barely got off the pitch and went under the right-hander’s bat, something that was bound to happen considering the pitch was deteriorating steadily.

Axar then went on to complete a five-wicket haul by rattling Tim Southee’s stumps as well. It was the fifth five-for for Axar in just his fourth Test.

The last two wickets of the New Zealand innings – Kyle Jamieson (23 off 75) and William Somerville (6 off 52) – were taken by Ashwin, who was rewarded for toiling away and building pressure each time he came on to bowl. The 35-year-old returned with figures of 3/82 from 42.3 overs.

India ended up with a 49-run first innings lead and their openers had about 25 minutes to negotiate before stumps. But Jamieson bowled the second over and struck with his very first ball to send Shubman Gill packing. It was pitched on a perfect length and nipped back in slightly to sneak through the gate, with the right-hander caught at the crease.

Mayank Agarwal and Cheteshwar Pujara remained unbeaten till stumps as India built a lead of 63 runs. New Zealand were in a promising position at the start of the day but Axar and Co ensured the hosts were on top heading into day four.

At stumps: India were 14/1 in 5 overs.

In the session: 29.3 overs, 61 runs, five wickets.

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