India had reduced the visitors to 38 for 6 in 16.4 overs by tea, as Mayank Agarwal’s 150 and Axar Patel’s fifty gained further importance
Tea New Zealand 38 for 6 (Siraj 3-19) trail India 325 all out (Agarwal 150, Gill 44, Axar 52, Ajaz 10-119) by 287 runs
Ajaz’s 10 for 119 had been a heroic solo in keeping India to 325, but that total looked north of gargantuan when New Zealand started batting, having tumbled to 38 for 6 in 16.4 overs by tea on the second day, with Ajaz’s historic feat not having time to breathe in its moment of glory.
New Zealand’s bowling was was one of those occasions when the scoreboard told the entire truth. New Zealand’s attack was Ajaz and the rest, and the wickets column reflected that, with 10 for 119 for Ajaz in 47.5 overs bowled out of the 109.5 that New Zealand sent down. Ajaz was consistently threatening, the others were at best support acts, but more often acted as pressure releases. That he still kept threatening, kept beating the bat, kept dangling the ball in a manner that batters couldn’t dominate was a testament to how well Ajaz had bowled.
Axar was a valuable ally for Agarwal in a seventh-wicket stand that yielded 67 runs. Resuming at 221 for 4, India were wobbly within two overs of the day’s start when Ajaz turned that into 224 for 6, trapping Wriddhiman Saha in front with one that skid on and then castling Ashwin with the spinner’s perfect ball – drift, dip, enough turn to beat bat on a forward defensive, not enough to miss stumps. Axar and Agarwal were patient, waiting for the errors in length to punish, taking India to lunch on a 285 for 6.
After lunch, though, it was back to the Ajaz show. He got Agarwal a ball after the opener had cut beautifully to get to 150, with another great ball that even the well-set opener was forced to follow with his hands as it spun sharply, feathering an edge behind. A smart review accounted for Axar, who padded up to one well outside off. However, Ajaz was convinced it was turning enough to threaten stumps, and with no shot offered, the lbw was on. Replays proved his instinct correct, and once Axar fell, India unraveled quickly.
The returning Jayant Yadav thought quick runs were the need of the hour and didn’t have the wrong idea in taking on Ajaz – then in his 48th and what would turn out the final over – reckoning the tiredness could be taken advantage of. However, his attempt to clear long-off failed and he could only hole out. Siraj survived an inside edged four but a hoick across the line next ball did him in.
Ajaz was enveloped in a group bear hug even as he let out a roar of ecstasy, with the Wankhede crowd on its feat to acknowledge his achievement.
Outside of that, though, India had built a good total on a pitch that was taking turn. How good it was became apparent when New Zealand began their innings. Where New Zealand’s pacers had Tim Southee, who was probing without being threatening and Kyle Jamieson who never found his length, India’s new-ball attack was potent when they got it right. Initially, Umesh Yadav and Siraj took an over to find their lengths, but when Siraj in particularly found it, he was devastating. Will Young was caught in the slips off one that straightened, Tom Latham ill-advisedly took on a wicket bouncer and Ross Taylor got the ball of the match, angling in and moving straight to take out off stump.
Ashwin struck with his first ball, Jayant in his first over, and Axar wasn’t going to be denied in between, leaving New Zealand staring down the barrel barely an hour after they had made history.
Saurabh Somani is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo