Ashwin threat looms over New Zealand in their quest of a miracle

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28 Nov 2021 | 02:17 PM
authorAnirudh Kasargod

Ashwin threat looms over New Zealand in their quest of a miracle

The highest fourth-innings target chased by a visiting team in India is 276 by West Indies in 1987 in Delhi

After two months of T20 action, the return to red-ball format has been an action packed one between India and New Zealand. Heading into the fifth day of the first Test, the game is poised in an absolute equilibrium. Theoretically, scoring 280 in a day’s play isn’t impossible but, practically speaking, it has been nearly unfeasible. Let alone chasing, with the pitch already misbehaving, New Zealand batsmen have their work cut-out just to bat out the ninety overs in the day.  

The question for New Zealand is, who are the batsmen who can bail them out? Is it Kane Williamson or Ross Taylor or Tom Latham? Before we dig deep into the records of these players, there is one big factor and that is batting in the fourth innings on the fifth day of a Test in India.

Batting in the fourth innings, a difficult feat in India  

In recent times, that is since 2017, teams have scored 129 runs on an average in the fourth innings, inclusive of all results. If we ignore the wins, the average fourth innings score in a draw/lost Test is 173 runs and teams have lost nine wickets on average. In this time span, only two teams have posted 200+ runs in the fourth innings out of the 13 innings, excluding this Test. The average score of 129 in the fourth innings India is the lowest for a country in Tests since 2017.

To add more to their misery, since 2011, the most runs scored by a team in the final day of a Test in India was by Sri Lanka. In 2017 in Delhi, Sri Lanka had scored 268 runs and lost only two wickets to draw the Test. It makes it even more difficult for New Zealand to attain the target as they need 280 runs to win on the final day, it's not impossible but, they need a miracle. Moreover, no visiting team has chased a higher target than this in the fourth innings against India.

With a win almost out of context, it all comes down to the New Zealand batsman batting out the whole day, which is not too difficult a task, especially on this pitch. It is spinning and there is variable bounce, but it has been occasional. Irrespective of that, by bare numbers and stats,  New Zealand batsmen need to defy the odds to create history. Kanpur has been a difficult venue to chase in Test history. Only three times teams have won while chasing in the fourth innings and the highest target successfully chased is 83/2 by India against New Zealand in 1999. In Test since 2017, on an average, teams have batted only 41.3 overs in the fourth innings, the least among all countries. This means only one thing for New Zealand, they just have to bring out their A-game that is multiplied by 100 times.  

R Ashwin, a thorn in NZ batting giants career

When playing against India, the combo of Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja are the deadliest while bowling in the fourth innings. It has been amplified more with the addition of Axar Patel. For New Zealand batters, Jadeja hasn’t been the problem, apart from Henry Nicholls, none of the other batters like Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor and Tom Latham have had dismissals against the bowler in the fourth innings. But, Ashwin has been the chief wrecker. In four innings, Williamson has had two dismissals against Ashwin in the fourth innings and Taylor has also been prey to him twice in three innings. More than the two, Latham in four innings had three dismissals against the likes of Ashwin. New Zealand’s chance of winning or to draw this Test lies on the shoulders of these three batsmen and their fate is in the wrist of Ashwin.

The undue advantage that could play a big part

Irrespective of the number of overs New Zealand need to bat out, there is one factor that could play a very crucial role. Though the game is till 4:30 PM IST and is allowed to extend by half-hour in case of shortage of overs, in all the four days, the day has come to an end at least a few overs short in each of the four days. The eastern part of the province sees an earlier sunset and the light fades away drastically after four o’clock. This adds an extra pressure for Indian bowlers to finish off the 90 overs within 4:30. Else, New Zealand can find themselves playing fewer overs.  

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India vs New ZealandNew Zealand tour of India, 2021IndiaNew ZealandKane WilliamsonRoss TaylorTom LathamRavichandran Ashwin

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