Kolkata, Oct 3 (IANS) Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja spun India to an unassailable 2-0 series lead and the No.1 Test ranking, pinning New Zealand down in a riveting see-saw affair, to win the second cricket Test by 178 runs on the fourth day here on Monday.
Chasing a stiff 376-run target, the visitors initially showed grit but then fell to the guile of the Indian slow bowlers once again — similar to the first Test at Kanpur that they lost by 197 runs — managing a meagre 197 in their second outing before a turnout of around 12,000 spectators at the Eden Gardens.
India thus reclaimed the numero uno Test team status, which they had enjoyed for a short period while during their tour to the West Indies, by dethroning arch-rivals Pakistan.
In the morning, Man of the Match Wriddhiman Saha struck his second unbeaten half-century to help India post 263. New Zealand had scored 204 in their first essay in reply to India’s 316.
The tourists started their run chase well, riding on opener Tom Latham’s (74 not out; 144 balls, 8×4), his ninth half-century and contributions from Martin Guptill (24) and Henry Nicolls (24) at the top order.
But post lunch, in-form Indian spinners Ashwin (3-82) and Jadeja (3-41) made mischief in tandem, to peg back New Zealand to 135 for three at tea. The visitors collapsed in the last session, losing their remaining seven wickets for only 62 runs.
Mohammed Shami (3-46) joined India’s party with his raw pace and swing to shave off the lower order. Bhuvneshwar Kumar (1-28) claimed the remaining wicket.
Latham departed soon after tea, starting the slide. Ashwin’s mastery over his craft was on show as he floated an inviting delivery which forced the opener to drive away from his body giving a nick to wicketkeeper Saha.
Mitchell Santner (9) and B.J. Watling (1) followed suit in quick succession, Shami accounting for both.
Luke Ronchi (32; 60 balls, 4×4) fought briefly before Jadeja accounted for him, castling the 35-year old. Jeetan Patel (2) failed to replicate his first innings form, when he scored a gritty 47, unable to comprehend the reverse swing generated from a good length ball by Buvneshwar.
Matt Henry (18) and Trent Boult (4) were cleaned up by Jadeja and Shami, respectively.
Earlier, India wrested back the initiative in the second session as Ashwin and Jadeja took three wickets to deny the tourists any hope of a fightback.
The hosts took 16 overs to get the first breakthrough after the openers had put on 55. Ashwin pitched the ball fuller and it turned in from outside the off stump to catch Martin Guptill (24; 49 b, 3×4) off guard.
It was an important wicket that came just when the opening stand had started to look steady. Latham and Henry Nicolls (24) then added 49 runs, helping the Kiwis reach 104.
But with the wicket offering a lot of turn, Jadeja changed his angle to outfox Nicolls, who failed to come fully forward to cover the turn, and the outside edge finished at the first slip.
Ross Taylor (8), who is standing in for indisposed captain Kane Williamson, lasted briefly, as he played the wrong line and was trapped on the front pad.
Earlier, resuming at 227 for eight, the two overnight batsmen Saha (58 not out; 120 balls, 6×4) and Bhuvneshwar Kumar (23; 51 balls, 2×4, 1×6) were involved in a 56-run partnership that helped India cross the 250-mark and set New Zealand a target which no team has ever achieved in the fourth innings at the famed ground.
The stand was broken in the 10th over of the morning session when Bhuvneshwar misjudged the bounce of Neil Wagner’s delivery and offered an easy catch to short leg. It was Wagner’s 99th wicket in 25 Tests.
Saha, who had run out of partners in the first innings after scoring 54, once again anchored the lower order, en route to his fourth Test half century.
Victorious Indian skipper Virat Kohli later showered praise on his cricketers for showing character in crunch situations of the game.
“I think we ticked all the boxes. We were put under pressure. We expect that from a side like New Zealand. But it takes character and to bounce back every time, and that’s what the boys did,” said Kohli.
Taylor conceded that Saha’s unbeaten fifties took the game away from them.
“Winning key moments was important. The way Saha came out in both innings when the game was in balance, those two 50s put us on the back foot,” he said.
(Debayan Mukherjee can be contacted at email@example.com)