Darkening skies that opened into a terrifying downpour curtailed the third day to a session and a half. Play was called off at 2.55 p.m., with New Zealand on their last gasp in this first Test match, struggling on 41 for 1 in the second innings after following on to India’s massive 438.
As things stand, India need nine wickets, New Zealand 238 runs to make India bat again, and the crowd a day’s uninterrupted play in what is the first Test match to be played in August in India – a calendar modification whose soundness is now being dutifully questioned.
Whatever toll the weather exacts would seem redundant to an equation so loaded in favour of one side – unless the rain refuses to relent for the next 48 hours. On Saturday, just 37.3 overs, of a maximum 83 that were expected after the delayed morning session, were bowled.
The Kiwis resumed their first essay on 106-5 and were shot out for 159 in 61.3 overs at the stroke of lunch, as off-spinner R. Ashwin took three wickets to swell his figures to six for 31. India's two spinners (including Ojha, three for 44) accounted for nine NZ batsmen.
Following a delay due to wet conditions – that claimed seven overs from the day’s quota – and needing 133 more to avoid the follow on, the task was cut out for James Franklin and Kruger van Wyk. But the lack of a preparatory tour game was apparent as the batsmen struggled to get going, the last five wickets tumbling for the addition of just 53 runs.
Umesh Yadav, who had bowled just three overs on Friday, got the breakthrough in the second over of the morning when he trapped van Wyk in front - the batsman missing a pull shot, thanks to some disturbingly uneven bounce.
Spin soon took over in the sixth over in the form of Ojha, and the left-armer did not disappoint. Ojha picked up his third wicket of the innings when he deceived Doug Bracewell in flight, spun the ball away, allowing Dhoni to do his thing behind the stumps.
Dhoni held Ashwin back until the 16th over of the first session. The Chennai lad took just three overs to wipe out the tail. Jeetan Patel was made to extend for a drive – the low return catch that resulted was snapped up by the bowler.
Ashwin then made one turn sharply across Trent Boult, who inside-edged to Gautam Gambhir at short leg to give the 25-year-old his third five-wicket haul in his seventh Test match. On the next delivery, Chris Martin, who is to batting what a hoarse throat is to singing, brought his bat down gallantly and uselessly, swishing air as the ball clattered into the stumps.
Tough task for Kiwis
All this while, James Franklin watched New Zealand’s demise from the other end, remaining unbeaten on 43 and acquitting himself well by using his feet against the spinners. In the second innings, Franklin will have to double his tally, and then some, and hope some of his resolve rubs off on the top order if his team is to save what appears to be a lost Test match.
It was such a mindset with which the Kiwi openers started out following on to a massive 279-run deficit. Dhoni opened the bowling with Ojha's left-arm trickery and boundaries were taken before Martin Guptill, on 15, was dropped by Virat Kohli at second slip off the spinner. The bowler had his man in his next over, a marginal leg-before decision for one that was turning away from the padding-up batsman.
Ashwin came on in the 18th over – on a hat-trick having claimed wickets off successive balls to end New Zealand’s first innings – and the delivery was safely negotiated by Brendon McCullum. Play, all this time, was progressing under floodlights, but a sinister-looking cloud that parked itself right above the stadium warranted stiffer anticipatory measures; the players walked off as the covers came out and the rain down.
See you tomorrow!