Devon Conway is living a dream. After years in the wilderness on the New Zealand domestic circuit, the southpaw has taken Test cricket like a duck to water. In the most important encounter of his career, he stood tall once again, defying India’s four-prong attack with a classic half-century that has kind of become his trademark since his debut three weeks ago at Lord's.
It was also down to Indian bowlers today. Barring Ravichandran Ashwin and Mohammed Shami, the Kiwi openers had faced no problems in tackling the barrage of length balls coming their way. Indian pacers kept only 23.4% deliveries in the full region in the first 30 overs, resulting in few gorgeous drives from the left-handed opening pair before Ashwin sent Tom Latham packing to give India their first breakthrough.
As Conway joined forces to forge a nice partnership with skipper Kane Williamson, Virat Kohli replaced Ravindra Jadeja from one end with Ishant Sharma towards the fag end of the day and that tactic reaped instant dividends. The Delhi pacer’s leg-side half-volley caught the Wellington Firebirds cricketer in two minds as Mohammed Shami stretched to his left at wide mid-on to restore some parity just before bad light stopped play, with New Zealand posting 101/2 on board in 49 overs.
Earlier in the day, Kyle Jamieson put up a show of absolute control. In the morning session, even though he hesitated to hold the line, his control and the ability to rush the batsmen inside the crease thanks to his high release point troubled Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane big-time. HawkEye projected that only seven out of Jamieson’s 94 balls would have gone on to hit the stumps but the seventh one was sheer beauty. It ended Kohli’s yet another mini classic, without the Indian skipper adding any runs to his overnight tally.
Rishabh Pant seemed in his elements, playing time, but a wide delivery lured him to drive when he could have left it alone. In the form of Latham, New Zealand have a potent man at the cordon, who could gobble anything that comes his way. Subsequently, Rahane, in what was one of the worst dismissals in recent memory, the Indian vice-captain tried to keep the pull low, unable to realize that Latham was everywhere in the field. A simple chest-high catch at forward square leg later, India were reduced to 182/6 - conceding the dominant position they had built in the second day.
It was then Ashwin - a batsman reinvented - decided to show his range of strokes, playing across the line against Tim Southee and Jamieson while fending away Neil Wagner on the bounce. It was a mini-battle, worth its weight in gold.
Ashwin hit three boundaries, perfectly struck, and never for a moment, looked uncomfortable. However, trying to hit Southee on the up, the Tamil Nadu all-rounder found that one ball that swung more than usual to leave him in dire straits. Ashwin’s dismissal opened the floodgate as Jamieson claimed Ishant Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah on back-to-back deliveries to claim his fifth Test five-wicket haul in just eight Tests as India were bundled out for a paltry 217 runs - a far cry from the expected total at stumps on Day 2.
With the forecast on Day 4 being far from perfect, a draw seems like the likeliest of solutions but then again, you can never count on UK weather to stay committed to its promise. India need their pacers to step up and not committing the same errors that cost them big-time today. As a matter of fact, Mohammed Shami induced 38.8 percent of false shots in this innings so far while none of the other Indian bowlers could do it more than 20 percent. The Indian team management would want to bridge that gap in order to lay siege on the World Test Championship mace while New Zealand would need their two greatest statesmen to stamp their authority to frustrate the Indians.