Ashwin’s Test best seals 3-0 for India

Ashwin’s Test best seals 3-0 for India

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. Ashwin’s figures of seven 59 were his best in Test cricket, as were his match figures of 13 for 140.

Set a similar task last year in another dead-rubber Test, on a similar slow turner at the Feroz Shah Kotla, South Africa chose to try and block their way to a draw. They didn’t succeed, but they made India toil for 143.1 overs to bowl them out. 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.

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.

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, and it sneaked under his bat and bowled him.

Luke Ronchi, James Neesham and Martin Guptill all fell in the next seven overs, the latter two to Ravindra Jadeja, and it seemed almost certain that the match wouldn’t go into a fifth day. BJ Watling and Mitchell Santner hinted that it just might, while putting on 24 for the seventh wicket, but Ashwin came back to break their partnership, bowling over the wicket to the left-handed Santner and beating him with natural variation. Coming forward to defend, Santner inside-edged the ball into his pad and then onto the stumps.

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.

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