The fifth day of a sub-continent Test match, a typical, spin-friendly track at Green Park, Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin hunting in pairs, and a vocal crowd cheering for India in unison – the stage seemed perfect for a memorable Test victory.
India had scored 345 runs in the first innings, and in response, New Zealand could only reach 296. The hosts were not up to the mark in the second innings, accumulating all but 234 runs. In response, New Zealand were once favourites to secure a win, until Ross Taylor and Kane Williamson departed in a span of seven deliveries.
From 125/3, New Zealand found themselves at 155/9 in no time, with Ajinkya Rahane’s team comfortably in the driver’s seat. Ravindra Jadeja dismissed Tim Southee in the 90th over to hammer the second-last nail in the Kiwis’ coffin.
The last nail? Not to be. What followed was a resolute show by Rachin Ravindra and Ajaz Patel, as they blocked out continuous spin, and spin of the highest order for that matter, for 52 deliveries straight, somehow salvaging a draw.
From the Indian perspective, though they did not get the desired result, newly appointed head coach Rahul Dravid can be satisfied with the performance of his boys. The attention now shifts to Wankhede Stadium, where the two best Test teams will clash for the second and final Test of the series.
Let us have a look at three reasons why India can win this series:
1. The Return of the King
We last saw Virat Kohli in an inconsequential game against Namibia, in the ICC T20 World Cup 2021. Having missed the T20I series and also the first Test, the Indian Test skipper will finally be back in whites for the second Test.
Whom he will replace is a different debate altogether. Mayank Agarwal could possibly make his way out, any of the experienced players could be benched, while as illogical as it might sound, even Shreyas Iyer could make way for Kohli.
Irrespective of who gets the axe, the inclusion of Kohli in the XI will certainly bolster India’s chances of winning this match. The 33-year-old’s Test career numbers are brilliant in any case, but when he is playing at the Wankhede Stadium, he seems to unlock an extraordinary.
In his last six Test Innings here in Mumbai, Kohli has scored 433 runs at an outstanding average of 72.17. He scored half-centuries in three of those knocks, and lest we forget what happened in his last Test match at Wankhede – an awe-inspiring 235 against England.
2. Wankhede – The Den of Ravichandran Ashwin?
Ravichandran Ashwin was born in Chennai, plays domestic cricket for Tamil Nadu and has represented Chennai, Punjab and Delhi in the Indian T20 League. Despite not having direct links, his relationship with Wankhede Stadium is like Rohit Sharma’s ineffable bond with the Eden Gardens.
Since Ashwin’s Test debut, India have played four Test matches at this ground and the 35-year-old has featured in all of those matches. He has up 30 wickets at an average of only 21.93, having a major influence in almost every single game.
Let us have a game-by-game look at how Ashwin has made Wankhede his happy hunting ground. In his first Wankhede Test against West Indies, Ashwin picked up nine wickets – five in the first innings and four in the second.
He could only pick two wickets in his second Test game, but to be fair to the off-spinner, India were completely outplayed by England in that particular match. Ashwin then picked up seven wickets in his third Test here, while he was unstoppable in his last Test here in 2016, picking up six wickets in each inning.
As if his contributions with the ball were not exemplary in itself, Ashwin has also been decent with the bat at the Wankhede Stadium. In his six innings here, he has scored 304 runs at an average of 37.67. In the given time frame, the averages of Sachin Tendulkar, Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag are inferior to Ashwin’s.
3. New Zealand’s spinners lacking the cutting edge
Wankhede Stadium is among the few grounds in India where spinners do not hold a clear advantage. However, stats will show that pacers have not done a decent job here in the recent past.
In the last four Test matches played on this venue, the men with pace have had both the worst average (over 60) and the worst economy rate (over 4). Instead, orthodox and off-spinners have had the best average, with leggies also doing a decent job.
Even if we see the last two Test matches India have lost at Wankhede, the opposition had an in-form spinner. Monty Panesar was exceptional in England’s victory in 2012, while in their 2006 triumph, Shaun Udal did well with the ball.
If the trend continues in this match as well, New Zealand might be in deep trouble. Their spin trio of Rachin Ravindra, Ajaz Patel and Will Somerville failed to have any sort of impact at the Green Park Test, picking up a combined three wickets only.
VISIT OUR BLOG TO GET YOUR FIX FOR ALL OF THE MOST CURRENT CRICKET NEWS STORIES & FEATURES