After Cheteshwar Pujara and Gautam Gambhir dominated the first half of the fourth day of the third and final Test match against New Zealand to set the visitors a huge target of 475, Umesh Yadav struck in the second over to send back Tom Latham lbw before Martin Guptill and Kane Williamson took the visitors to 38 for 1 by tea at the Holkar Cricket Stadium in Indore on Tuesday (October 11).
India, overnight 18 for no loss in their second innings, rode on Pujara’s eighth Test ton to declare on 216 for 3, giving them an overall lead of 474 runs after New Zealand had been bowled out for 299 – with R Ashwin grabbing 6 for 81 – in response to India’s first-innings total of 557 for 5 declared.
At the break, Guptill was on eight and Williamson on 23.
For just a shade over one-and-a-half sessions before they came out to bat, New Zealand were sent on a leather-hunt in the Indore heat as India added 198 runs in 43 overs. Gambhir did the early scoring, hitting six fours in a 56-ball 50 before getting out trying to keep the tempo up. Once Gambhir was gone, Pujara took charge, scoring much quicker than is typical of him in keeping with the requirement of the team — fast runs to set up a declaration with enough time to bowl out the New Zealanders a second time and sweep the series 3-0.
Pujara went to lunch unbeaten on 50 from 98 balls. From there to 101 not out was a matter of just 50 balls for him, as he played enterprising but non-risk cricket and ran his singles hard, first with Virat Kohli and then with Ajinkya Rahane.
After India had added 109 runs in 28 overs in the morning, with Gambhir turning back the clock and playing a wonderful hand, Pujara took charge post lunch, finding the boundaries with drives, late-cuts and sweeps to keep the scoreboard moving at an appreciable rate.
Kohli, with a slap-cut for four, looked good, but perished in his quest for quick runs, trying to sweep Jeetan Patel from outside off-stump to be trapped in front. Kohli scored 17 in 28 balls.
Pujara, unfazed, carried on, finding a boundary in almost every over and Rahane, after a short settling-down period, got his boundary shots out too as the lead continued to swell – 350, 400, 450 coming up one on top of the other.
It was a matter of waiting firstly for Pujara to convert his fourth half-century of the series into his eighth Test century and then to see how much India would want on the board before throwing New Zealand in for their second dig.
As it turned out, one led to the other, with Pujara getting to his milestone with a pulled four off Jimmy Neesham in the 49th over of the innings, and India declaring at the end of that over. Pujara’s unbeaten 101 came off 148 balls and included nine boundaries. Rahane was not out on 23 off 20 balls, with three fours, when the batsmen were called back in.
The day started with M Vijay and Pujara, who had walked in on the third evening when Gambhir hurt his already injured right shoulder while diving to steal an extra run and had to retire hurt, playing steadily before a spot of miscommunication ended their pairing. Having played Mitchell Santner to the covers, Vijay set off for a run but was sent back belatedly by Pujara, and failed to make his ground as Guptill sent in a brilliant back-flick for BJ Watling to complete the run out. Vijay fell for 19.
Gambhir, recovered sufficiently to bat, came out and immediately upped the scoring rate. It started with a streaky stroke past gully off Henry, but he then went after Trent Boult, a flick that sped to the leg-side fence the pick of his shots. Pujara, quiet till then, also joined the party, stepping out to Boult and sending him to the long-off fence for a boundary of his own.
There was the odd moment of concern, especially with Gambhir displaying that old habit of poking outside off-stump every once in a while, but when he got it right, he was excellent.
Gambhir got to his half-century quickly, benefitting from an over-throw from Guptill at cover, off 54 deliveries, having done his bit to give India the momentum they needed. He fell immediately after, though, trying to drive Patel over the infield on the off-side but only giving Guptill a straightforward catch at cover. His 56-ball 50 included six hits to the fence.
For Gambhir, back in the Test XI for the first time since August 2014, it was the 22nd career half-century to go with nine three-figure scores, and the first time he had reached the milestone since December 2012, when he scored 60 against England in Kolkata.