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New Zealand’s last five wickets added 114 compared to India’s 61, and proved to be the difference

A defensive masterclass from Kane Williamson all but eliminated a defeat for New Zealand in the World Test Championship final, but India were resolute in the session they got to bat, losing just the two wickets and ending the penultimate day 32 runs ahead. It needed Tim Sotuhee’s genius to prise out the openers in arguably the best conditions of a Test that has proved to be torrid for batters. So torrid that we can still think of a result despite only 225 overs of play in the five regulation days of the Test.

As was the case in the two-Test series between these two teams in New Zealand, the contribution from the lower order proved to be the difference: New Zealand’s last five wickets added 114 to India’s 61. Yet their lead was only 32.

New Zealand began the day – an hour after time because of a drizzle – 116 behind with eight wickets in hand, but India’s bowlers made sure New Zealand didn’t run away with the game. It was a masterclass in controlled bowling in helpful conditions, giving New Zealand nothing to score off and finding enough wicket-taking deliveries in between.

In the second half of the innings, though, Williamson found support from Kyle Jamieson and Tim Southee, whose risks against a now-tiring three-man seam attack came off. New Zealand’s last five added 114 in 29 overs, which defied the prevailing run rate of around two in the rest of the match.

Before the lower order got away from them, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah and Ishant Sharma put in quite a shift to make sure New Zealand didn’t bat them out of the contest. They did it the hard way: not looking for magic balls but drying up runs with sustained, intense good bowling. Between them, the three bowled all the overs in the first session followed by a half-an-hour lull leading to the second new ball in the second session.

A good indicator of the quality of bowling and the surface is the rate at which Williamson is scoring because he is a masterful batter who plays according to the situation. His 49 off 177 balls was his slowest innings of 20 or more balls. The last time New Zealand scored fewer than their 152 here in the first 80 overs in an innings was way back in 2002.

In the whole first session, you could count the number of ordinary balls on one hand: two inswingers down the leg side from Ishant that went unpunished and a half-volley each from Shami and Bumrah. Just 34 runs came in that session for the wickets of Ross Taylor, Henry Nicholls and BJ Watling.

Taylor swung hard at the sight of the first full ball he got and ended up chipping to mid-off. Nicholls followed an around-the-wicket awayswinger. Watling got a peach from Shami, which pitched middle and hit top of off.

At the start of the second session, India had to relent a little as the new ball was seven overs away. This is where the scoring rate started to turn, but with the new ball Shami trapped Colin de Grandhomme with an inswinger from wide on the crease to make it 162 for 6. Jamieson, though, used his reach well to go after the bowlers. A ball after he hit the first six of the match, he top-edged a hook to fall to Shami for 21 off 16.

New Zealand were still 25 behind, and Williamson now upped his intent a little. He upper-cut Shami for a four, started looking to open the face a little whenever allowed to go back, but still picked boundaries only off poor balls, which increased now that the three fast bowlers were close to bowling two sessions just by themselves.

Williamson will be cross with himself that in such a situation he followed a wide ball from Ishant with an attempted back-foot drive, possibly leaving a few runs out there. Southee, though, made sure they took the lead past 30, hitting two sixes, going past Ricky Ponting to move to No. 15 on six-hitters’ list in Test cricket.

However, it was Southee the bowler who kept New Zealand in the hunt for a win with highly skilful bowling. India began batting with the final session of the day, a situation reminiscent of their defeat in Christchurch where they lost six wickets in the last session of a day after the first innings of both sides had practically cancelled each other out.

That pitch had steep and uneven bounce. This one was now finally settling down going into the third day of use. There wasn’t anything off the pitch available for the New Zealand bowlers, but the swing with the Dukes was still a challenging proposition. Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill looked in control, but Southee was just a little better.

Gill was removed in the 11th over when Southee followed up three outswingers with a change in seam position at the last moment, bowling his wobble-seam delivery, which swings in. Gill looked to flick to midwicket, which meant he was beaten on the inside edge and trapped in front.

Rohit looked more assured, and in the company of Cheteshwar Pujara was headed for stumps when Southee came back for a testing second spell. They had had to endure the Jamieson examination before Southee took over. Fifteen minutes before stumps, he took Rohit out with the inswinger, but this time with a seam-up delivery, only with the shiny side outside. Rohit padded up, and was given out lbw.

Virat Kohli and Pujara played out the tricky last 15 minutes, but knew they had serious work to do on the final morning, the reserve day.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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