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HYDERABAD: Off-spinner R. Ashwin’s record ten-wicket haul orchestrated India’s season-opening victory over New Zealand in the first Test at Uppal here, as the hosts romped home by a massive innings and 115 runs with a day to spare to go one-up in the two-match series.
The 25-year-old Ashwin claimed six wickets across two sessions on Sunday as the Kiwis, who had resumed on 41-1 in the morning, crashed to 164 in just under 80 overs. Ashwin’s match figures of 12-85, his first ten-wicket haul, are the best by an Indian bowler against New Zealand.
Ashwin and left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha (match figures of six for 92) accounted for 18 of the 20 wickets to fall in the match. Cheteshwar Pujara had earlier set it up nicely with a first innings 159 and Virender Sehwag contributed with some agile catching in the slips, including a one-handed diving effort to get rid of James Franklin.
After a watchful first session, New Zealand lost their last seven wickets for 26 runs. Victory was realized when a carrom ball ended Chris Martin’s three-ball agony at the crease, but India were made to tide over a fruitless morning before the sluice gates opened.
New Zealand began with Kane Williamson and Brendon McCullum whittling away at the 238-run deficit, and the batsmen were the personifications of diligence as they put their heads down and went about their business.A 9 a.m. start was delayed to 11 a.m. due to wet conditions and a light drizzle, but there were no interruptions once play resumed.
Pragyan Ojha initiated proceedings with two slips and a gully in place, the agendas for either side firmly in place: New Zealand playing for time, hoping for rain; India requiring to claim nine wickets before the heavens opened for yet another curtailment.
For once, Ashwin was no longer held back, and came in to bowl in the second over on Sunday, as spin assumed duties from either end. Mc Cullum edged Ojha chancily as the ball flew wide of slip, but the Kiwis looked relatively comfortable, using their feet to good effect and taking boundaries off Ashwin when he erred on length.
After 15 overs of unsuccessful spin, Dhoni tossed the ball to Zaheer Khan to see if the spearhead could harness the overcast conditions for swing. Zaheer was negotiated watchfully by the pair in the middle, the full face of the bat often on display as it met the ball.
Pujara, meanwhile, continued his dalliance with injuries when Williamson’s powerful swat off Ashwin struck the India batsman at short leg. The ball impacted on the right knee, the same spot Pujara had been operated on earlier in the year. Pujara, grimacing in pain, left the field and was substituted by Ajinkya Rahane. News trickled out later that the injury was not serious.
New Zealand entered lunch at 92 for one, with Williamson (31) and McCullum (39) having successfully survived 27 overs’ worth of India’s attempts to gain an early breakthrough. But the 72-run second-wicket stand was broken in the third over after lunch, albeit not in convincing fashion.
McCullum’s defensive shot to Umesh Yadav thudded into his pads after catching the inside-edge. The close-in field jumped up in appeal, and umpire Steve Davis raised his finger as the visibly angry Kiwi stormed off – his side knocking at the door of disaster again after having resisted for the length of the morning session.
Seven runs later, Ashwin castled Ross Taylor with a sharp off-break, the Kiwi skipper’s decision to leave the ball alone costing him his wicket. Meanwhile, Williamson was putting on a show of Test match batting. The 22-year-old reached his fifth fifty in 161 balls, with a scampered three off Ashwin.
After pushing through some quick overs through Suresh Raina, Dhoni called in Ojha for the first time after lunch. The left-arm spinner struck a fell blow on his second delivery – a stock ball drifted in and jagged sharply away from Williamson, catching the edge before being pouched greedily by Virender Sehwag at first slip.
With a packed close-in field, the pitch suddenly appeared to have more bite, and Flynn, after having braved 54 balls for his 11, attempted a sweep against Ashwin, only to be trapped in front. James Franklin, who had stood firm and unbeaten amid the ruins in the first innings, couldn’t reprise his act in the second gig.
The southpaw became the sixth wicket to fall when he thick-edged a trademark Ashwin off-break, which was snapped up by a vigilant Sehwag, who dove full length to his right to complete the catch. Ojha got rid of Doug Bracewell, and then it was time for Ashwin’s tenth wicket – Kruger van Wyk deceived to death by the carrom ball.
In his next over, the Chennai off-spinner took out Trent Boult and Chris Martin - taking two in an over for the second time in the match, and finishing with six for 54. Ashwin's performance, although on a prepared track against sub-standard opposition, along with the welcome U-19 World Cup win by Unmukt Chand's boys, would be welcomed by India as a pleasant place from where to launch what is likely to be a grueling home season.