Brief scores: New Zealand: 249 (Devon Conway 54, Kane Williamson 49, Tom Latham 30; Mohamad Shami 4/76) trail India: 217 (Ajinkya Rahane 49, Virat Kohli 44; Kyle Jamieson 5/31) and 64/2 (Rohit Sharma 30, Cheteshwar Pujara 12*; Tim Southee 2/17) by 32 runs
With the forecast at Southampton for Day 6 (reserve day) being the most ideal so far with no rain and clear skies predicted, all three results could be possible. A draw, however, looks the most likely.
India’s hopes lie squarely on the shoulders of captain Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara to extend the team’s lead further and to deny New Zealand a chance to make a comeback in the ultimate test.
If there’s one thing that connects generations of Indian cricket is the delay in getting rid of the opposition’s tail. New Zealand’s lower-order batsmen, on Day 5, showed character as they added 87 runs for the last four wickets, as compared to India’s 35 runs. However, one cannot shy in crediting India for folding New Zealand’s first innings for 249 runs, a lead of mere 32 runs, in a bowling show, which was full of discipline and control.
Let us take a look at the major talking points from Day 5 of the WTC Final.
Shami on song
Pacers Mohammad Shami and Ishant Sharma exploited the overcast conditions at Southampton’s Aegas Bowl to deny New Zealand a big first innings lead. No bowler in the current WTC cycle, with a minimum of 20 wickets, has induced more false shots than the Saharanpur-born Shami. The fact that Ishant Sharma sits in the second position of the same table tells you about India’s fast bowling domination.
In the culmination of the two-year cycle, the Indian pacers put up yet another show of excellence as they troubled Kiwi batsmen. Shami kept landing on the full-length area to force the opposition batsmen into driveable position. The effectiveness was such that it took the Kiwi captain 105 minutes to hit the first boundary of the day.
Kiwi middle-order fumbles
Shami, who constantly kept beating the edges and forced the New Zealand batsmen to lose control, helped India with the first breakthrough of the day by dismissing veteran batsman Ross Taylor for a 37-ball 11. The next batsman, Henry Nicholls, didn’t last long either. Coming from around the wicket, Ishant forced Nicholls to play away from the body as Rohit Sharma pounded on a diving catch to reduce New Zealand to 134/4.
It was then back to Shami who produced an exhibition of seam bowling when he caught BJ Watling plumb in front of the wicket with a seaming delivery, leaving captain Williamson strung by a lack of scoring options, and guarding one end.
Captain accelerates with tail
If you weren’t a keen watcher of Test matches, you would have failed to notice when the Kiwi captain changed gears. As Colin de Grandhomme fell to another Shami beauty, Williamson realised it was time to take matters into his own hands. The occasional hook and pull helped him get some runs and momentum, as he more-often-than-not got to the pitch of the ball to parry it away for some much-needed runs.
On the other hand, Kyle Jamieson used his long reach to go after the bowlers. But no sooner had he hit the first six of the match, he top-edged a hook to fall to Shami for 21 runs from 16 balls. The Kiwi’s were still 25 behind, with the captain upping his intent a little. Williamson started looking to open the face of his bat more often and picked up boundaries of some poor down-the-leg-side bowling from India.
The Kiwi captain, will however, be disappointed in the way he got dismissed for 49 runs from 177 deliveries. However, Tim Southee, now 15th on the list of six-hitters in Test cricket, made sure that New Zealand took the lead past 30 runs, hitting two maximum shots.
India start slow
Trailing by 32 runs, and with just over four sessions remaining in the Test match, India began their innings tentatively with Rohit Sharma and Shubhman Gill taking their time to get settled. Pacer Jamieson bowled an attacking length in his first spell, forcing the Indian openers to curb their instincts. It was Southee, though, who provided his team with the first wicket, wrapping Gill on the pads for just 8 runs.
Rohit, on the other hand, seemed solid in tackling the tough deliveries and left quite a few that were there on the probing line. His strike-rate was on the lower-side (52%) as compared to his first innings strike-rate of 75%. However, despite all his caution, the 30s bug continued to haunt his Southee caught him off guard with another terrific in-swinger.
Kohli and Pujara then played out the tricky last 15 minutes of the day, but knew they had serious work to do on the final morning, the reserve day. India ended the day at 64/2, with a lead of 32 runs, but the game seems tilted towards New Zealand. With Kohli and Pujara in the middle, batting on 8 and 12 respectively, the onus will squarely lie on their shoulders to extend the lead further to deny New Zealand to walk away as outright winners.