India 318 (Vijay 65, Pujara 62, Boult 3-67, Santner 3-94) and 377 for 5 dec (Pujara 78, Vijay 76, Rohit 68*, Jadeja 50*) beat New Zealand 262 (Williamson 75, Latham 58, Jadeja 5-73, Ashwin 4-93) and 236 (Ronchi 80, Santner 71, Ashwin 6-132) by 197 runs
Unsurprisingly since India’s home Tests have begun being played on big turning pitches, this match was decided by spin: both how it was bowled and played. On both counts India were the better of the two teams. India’s two spinners, R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja took 16 wickets at an economy rate of 2.65; New Zealand’s three spinners, Mark Craig, Michell Santner and Ish Sodhi took eight at 3.58.
By winning the toss and choosing to bat first India certainly got the better of the conditions with the pitch deteriorating and taking more turn with each innings. However, with the pitch turning from the first day, albeit slowly, there was enough assistance to offer spinners encouragement throughout the match.
The principal difference between India’s spinners and New Zealand’s was accuracy. Across the match 85 of the 806 deliveries bowled by Ashwin and Jadeja were either over-pitched (fuller than three metres from the batsman’s stumps) or dropped short (shorter than six metres from the batsman’s stumps); this was significantly better than the 175 of 824 from Craig, Santner and Sodhi. In terms of line New Zealand fared as well as India in their first bowling innings, however in the second while Ashwin and Jadeja maintained stump percentages of around and above 30% New Zealand’s dropped to low 20s and below.
The control offered by India’s spinners allowed Virat Kohli the luxury of setting heavy off or leg side fields depending on the bowler, forcing the batsmen to play very well-placed shots with the spin, or into the larger gaps against the spin, which made rotation of the strike even more difficult. Without the same control Kane Williamson had to settle for more conventional field settings to his spinners, opening gaps on the off and leg side.
“They basically create a lot of pressure,” said New Zealand’s bowling coach Shane Jurgensen after play on day four. “They make you play the ball consistently, they bowl straight and they are very experienced. It’s shown in the little adjustments they make, positions on the crease, angles, field placements, they are obviously very good at that.” Across the match India’s spinners’ dot ball percentage was 78% compared to 71% for New Zealand’s and India’s spinners conceded 43 boundaries compared to New Zealand’s 60.
Tellingly the one passage of play in the match when New Zealand succeeded against the spinners was on the second afternoon when the left-hand, right-hand pairing of Tom Latham and Williamson rotated the strike excellently, facing just two maidens, and disrupted the rhythm and accuracy of Ashwin and Jadeja. The most continuous deliveries Ashwin bowled at one batsman was six while Jadeja only three times managed longer, the last and longest of which, a 12 ball sequence to Williamson, twice nearly resulted in a wicket.
“That is one of the keys,” New Zealand’s batting coach Craig McMillan said after the second day’s play. “You don’t allow Ashwin or Jadeja to bowl 12 or 15 balls at one person. You have to find a way to get down the other end and both those guys did that really nicely today.”
Key to Latham and Williamson rotating the strike was picking the length early. “We’ve done a lot of work in terms of using the feet and getting deep in the crease, they’re all key things to playing spin well,” he said. “You watch the best players of spin around the world and they don’t get caught on the crease. They are either forward or back.”
On the second day, with the turn still quite slow, Williamson played 41% of his shots off the back foot, adjusting to the spin after the ball had pitched, while Latham favoured the front foot and swept regularly and well, further disrupting Ashwin and Jadeja’s line and lengths which had already been confused by the right-hand, left-hand combination. It is telling that on day two Latham and Williamson were only made to play 17 drives between them.
India’s most prolific batsmen in the match, Murali Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara, took playing spin to a higher level still. As Santner explained after the first day, on a pitch that takes significant turn, bowling accurately, to “let the wicket come and play its part,” is key. Vijay and Pujara knew this and their experience, intelligence and skill were clear as they proactively disrupted New Zealand’s lengths in both innings. Pujara came down the pitch 24 times in the match, five more than the entire New Zealand team while Vijay, particularly in the second innings, struck a handful of boundaries off good balls, playing inside out, playing late and using his feet.
New Zealand may have a lot of ground to make up between themselves and India but they can take small comfort in that their opposition have provided them with an excellent template of how they should bat and bowl in these conditions. The hard part is following the example.
Freddie Wilde is an analyst at CricViz.