India completed a 3-0 whitewash in devastating fashion as a seven-wicket haul from R Ashwin shot New Zealand out for 153 in their last innings of the series. India declared just under an hour from tea, after Cheteshwar Pujara had completed his eighth Test hundred, to set New Zealand a target of 475 and give themselves a day and a half to take 10 wickets. They only needed 44.5 overs, as New Zealand lost nine wickets for 115 runs in the post-tea session.
Ravichandran Ashwin yet again proved why winning a Test in India, let alone a series, has become nearly impossible for the visiting teams in the past four years when his 21st five-wicket haul guided India to a massive 321-run win – their second biggest in terms of margin – over New Zealand in Indore on the fourth day of the third Test on Tuesday.There probably isn’t a more influential cricketer anywhere in the world today. Certainly no one has played a bigger part in India securing the No. 1 Test ranking, a feat they got to celebrate when Virat Kohli was handed the ICC Test championship mace at the end of the match, in front of a capacity crowd in Indore.
By virtue of their win in the Indore Test, India completed a 3-0 series whitewash to reclaim the no 1 ranking in the format. Chasing a massive 475 to win, New Zealand succumbed to Ashwin’s career-best 7/59 and folded for 153 in the final session.
Set a similar task last year in another dead-rubber Test, on a similar slow turner at Feroz Shah Kotla, South Africa chose to block their way to a draw. They didn’t succeed, but they did make India toil for 143.1 overs. New Zealand, having until now given India a harder time on this tour than South Africa did in theirs, adopted an entirely different approach and collapsed spectacularly.
Batting in the fourth innings in Holkar was always going to be a tricky prospect but considering how New Zealand have put up close fights throughout the series should have given them some hope for extending the match to a fifth day. But, as it turned out, that wasn’t the case as Trent Boult gave Ashwin a return catch in the stipulated final over of the day as he finished with his career-best match figures of 13/140.
Their two most accomplished batsmen, Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor, exemplified this approach. Both came out looking to attack Ashwin, their tormentor through the series, and ended up playing a part in their own undoing.
Williamson hit Ashwin for three fours in his first two overs, either side of tea, but in that time also gave the bowler enough of a clue that he was looking to step across his stumps and play him with the turn as much as possible. He shuffled across again to the eleventh ball he faced from Ashwin, premeditatedly, and a flatter, quicker one turned in and trapped him in front. Like he had done to Kumar Sangakkara on the 2015 tour of Sri Lanka, Ashwin had dismissed Williamson four times in four innings.
Simply put, Ashwin was on top of his game and he toyed with their clueless batsmen even though for a brief period Ross Taylor took on him with a counterattacking innings.In his first over at the crease, Taylor jumped out and hit Ashwin over the top for a four and a six off successive balls. As Ashwin’s spell continued, he stepped out again to whip him over midwicket, and then drove him against the turn through the covers. Having gone to 32 off 24, though, he chanced a sweep off a ball that was too full for the shot. It sneaked under his bat and bowled him. Ashwin eventually fooled him and others that followed. The surgical destruction had started when Kane Williamson fell to him for the fourth successive time in the series, pinned in front for 27.
Luke Ronchi (15), Mitchell Santner (14) and Jeetan Patel (0) all were castled by Ashwin while his partner-in-destruction Ravindra Jadeja polished off the first innings top scorers Martin Guptill (29) and Jeetan Patel.
India didn’t have to wait too long for the eighth and ninth wickets, but Watling and Trent Boult briefly raised the possibility of their having to come back on Wednesday to take the tenth, by putting on the longest partnership of the innings. They stuck around for 10.1 overs, causing India a bit of frustration – Jadeja bowled a 45kph donkey drop to Boult, Ashwin dragged down a legbreak to Watling – and threatening to take the fourth day into an extra half-hour, before Boult came down the track to drive Ashwin and popped back a waist-high return catch.
Before the spinners got into the act, Cheteshwar Pujara shifted gears in the second session to an unbeaten eighth Test century as India declared their second innings at 216/3, thus leaving New Zealand five sessions to save the match. Pujara scored his first fifty off 98 deliveries and with the declaration looming large, picked up his scoring rate to score next 51 in 50 balls. The innings was built in typical Pujara fashion – rock solid defense, avoiding risk and full of ground strokes. Gautam Gambhir (50), Virat Kohli (17) and Ajinkya Rahane (23*) were the aggressors and Pujara provided the stability from his end, allowing them to go for quick runs. He kicked up the pace later one, picking boundaries via paddle sweep, late cuts and pull.
He was the fulcrum around which India constructed three significant partnerships. The first one with Gambhir for 76 runs, next with captain Kohli for 48 and third one, the quickest, an unbeaten 58 in nine overs with Ajinkya Rahane (23*).
Gambhir did his part, striking a brisk half-century, his first in nine innings. This was also his first Test fifty for the first time in four years, returning to bat on Tuesday after retiring hurt on Day 3 due to a shoulder injury he. Gambhir’s next four boundaries were a product of some exquisite timings – the best being a gentle flick off Trent Boult in the 23rd over that raced away to the fence.
The pair added 76 for the second wicket before Gambhir fell for 50 off 56 balls, chipping Jeetan Patel to short extra-cover. Kohli, the first-innings double-centurion, fell in the sixth over after lunch, given lbw looking to sweep Patel although replays suggested the ball may have struck his pad outside the line of off stump.
While Pujara continued to throttle New Zealand bowlers with some stern defense, Gambhir was quicker with his scoring rate, reaching his 22nd fifty off 54 deliveries and at one point his strike-rate was over 100. After him, Kohli was trapped for 17 as he searched to hasten the run-rate but Rahane struck three fours – the last of which beautifully driven through covers and remained unbeaten on 23 to take his tally to 211 runs from the Test.
With nine overs to bat out before tea, New Zealand lost one wicket, Umesh Yadav going around the wicket in his first over and attacking the stumps to get Tom Latham lbw playing around his front pad. New Zealand were 38 for 1 at tea. They probably wouldn’t have imagined that it would all be over after just one more session.