New Zealand have taken the upper hand on day 3 of the inaugural WTC final, with a strong opening partnership of 70 between Tom Latham and Devon Conway leading them to finish on 101 for two after dismissing India for 217.
India had begun on 146 for three, and even with the overnight rain which led to a late start, the conditions made batting a very difficult proposition. The ruin of many a good side is not taking advantage when conditions favour you, but Trent Boult and Kyle Jamieson were dangerous right from the start.
On three runs had been added when an inswinger from Jamieson rapped Kohli on the front pad, and even with the use of a hopeful review, he fell lbw.
Enter Rishabh Pant. A testament to his ability is the expectation when he arrives at the crease. He tried to adapt to the conditions, but he was tempted into a full-blooded drive wide outside off stump and he could only edge the ball hard to second slip where Latham took a fabulous catch.
Not all scores of 156 for five are the same. In this case, every run scored by India was hard-earned. The value of each Test wicket is high, but in the case of this innings Ajinkya Rahane’s wicket was becoming almost priceless. Rahane and Ravi Jadeja moved the total to 182 before Rahane was caught between a paddle and a hook as Neil Wagner reverted to a short ball approach and gave a curious catch to Latham at a shortish square leg, a run short of what would have been the first half-century of the match.
Part of India’s strategy for this game was to choose two spinning all-rounders, and the second of those, Ravi Ashwin, launched a counter-attack of sorts, either side of the new ball being taken. Southee was driven a couple of times, but ultimately drew Ashwin into a drive and an edge, Latham taking a third catch of the session. Lunch came with the score of 211 for seven – the game very much in the balance.
With such balance, it can be wrested in one direction or another quickly, and just after lunch Jamieson squared up Ishant Sharma and had Jasprit Bumrah plumb lbw with the next delivery. Jamieson’s five for 31 was a true reward of his application and execution. In just eight Tests, this was fifth five-wicket haul, an indication of a comet-like entry into cricket at the highest level.
Just as it seemed that Jadeja needed to put his foot on the accelerator, he was strangled down the leg-side off Boult, completing the innings. The last seven wickets had fallen for only 71 runs in 27 overs in the morning and early part of the afternoon session. Only Rahane and Pant could be blamed for playing bad shots, with the rest of the wickets coming from brilliant work from all of the NZ bowlers. Jamieson may well have taken the most wickets, but they very much hunt as a pack. This English summer they have demonstrated a killer instinct in finishing innings off quickly.
The pitch and the conditions favoured the fielding start from the start, so the context of 217 couldn’t be felt until both sides had batted. The pace trio of Ishant, Bumrah and Mohammed Shami were tighter than their NZ counterparts in terms of runs conceded, but Latham and Conway were relatively untroubled, with lots of balls left outside of the off stump, with the exception of two balls from Shami that took the edge but flew over the slip cordon.
After tea, Conway and Latham looked to increase the run rate which had stalled before the resumption and got as far as 70 at the mid-session drinks break with no issues. However, in the first over after the break, Latham mis-directed a drive off Ashwin, which was well caught by Kohli at a short cover.
With the fall of the first wicket, Kane Williamson came to the crease and the captain’s mini-battle with the variations of Ashwin was a compelling sub-plot. He, together with Conway took the score past 100, and Conway was able to raise his bat for a thoroughly well-deserved 50, scored off 136 balls with six boundaries. How extraordinarily he has taken to Test cricket.
But with what transpired to be the last over of the day – as bad light intervened again – Sharma was able to prize out the Johannesburg-born opener. After more than 20 balls without a run, he tried flick a ball between square leg and mid-on, only to find Shami running at full speed to his left, taking a fine catch. Conway’s frustration at getting out would have been compounded further when the ever encroaching dark clouds overhead brought a premature end to proceedings only two balls later
With the weather forecast looking gloomy for the next 24 hours, it appears that the biggest impediment to the match reaching a result may be the weather. Kohli’s men are by no means out of it at this stage, but they will need to make early inroads to prevent New Zealand from exerting more authority on this gripping match.