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How Siraj’s new-ball burst laid foundation for spinners to skittle out New Zealand for 62

Fast bowler Mohammed Siraj says he went all out in Mumbai knowing he only had a short window to make an impact on a turning track

Written by Abhishek Purohit | Mumbai |
Updated: December 5, 2021 7:48:19 am
India's Mohammed Siraj, celebrates the dismissal of New Zealand's Tom Latham with his team players during the day two of their second test cricket match with New Zealand in Mumbai, India, Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021.(AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

Just after 1 pm on Saturday, Ajaz Patel dismissed Mohammed Siraj to complete a historic ten-for – only the third ever in Test cricket – and end the Indian first innings in the second Test at Wankhede Stadium. Just after 3.30pm, he was back in the middle for an unbeaten one-ball stint at No. 11 as New Zealand crumbled in 28.1 overs for 62 – the lowest-ever total by a team against India.

On a day when the perfect ten was achieved for the first time since Anil Kumble’s feat against Pakistan in 1999, and as many as 13 of the 16 wickets to fall went to spin, it was the three that fell to pace that set the tone for the day. And in keeping with a day on which a Kiwi spinner registered ten wickets in an innings against India in India, an Indian fast bowler outbowled two New Zealand pacers.

After Kyle Jamieson and Tim Southee had sent down 34 wicketless overs on a Wankhede track made for spin, Siraj ripped through the New Zealand top order in just 13 deliveries.

Siraj nipped out Will Young and Ross Taylor with some away nibble, and in between, consumed stand-in skipper Tom Latham on the hook. Siraj does not have Southee’s banana outswing, nor does he have Jamieson’s awkward bounce.

What he does all the time with his manic energy — most evident in his bustling run-up — is create this sense that something is about to happen soon. And often, he does make something happen.

Siraj would later say that he had seen the New Zealand pacers bowl wider and that had only made it easier for them to be left. So he decided that he would target the off stump and try to move the ball away. That is exactly what he did.

The inward angle on the off-stump line made both Young and Taylor play; the away seam movement took Young’s edge to second slip and uprooted Taylor’s off stump. “A dream delivery for a fast bowler,” as Siraj said about the latter.

The plan to Latham was clear in the lead-up to his wicket, and he still fell for it. Four of the five deliveries from Siraj to Latham were short or short of a good length. The sixth was dug in sharp and short with long leg and deep backward square leg waiting. Latham could not resist and picked out the latter man.

Siraj knew he would not get much of a bowl on this pitch and went flat out with the new ball. “I knew I would get a spell of 3-4 overs and wanted to bowl with full intensity and in the right areas,” Siraj said.

The 27-year old from Hyderabad had been out for a couple of weeks after suffering a split webbing while fielding off his bowling in the first T20I against New Zealand in Jaipur. When he resumed training, he said he did a lot of single-wicket bowling with the aim of getting the ball to move and consistently hit one area.

Admittedly, Kanpur was a lot slower and lower, but this was the sudden, stinging burst that India had missed in the first Test, with Ishant Sharma not quite finding his radar and rhythm.

It was just the start of the sixth over, and New Zealand were already 17/3 and ripe for the picking for India’s three spinners. Axar Patel would strike with the first ball of his second over, Jayant Yadav in his very first over, and R Ashwin with his very first ball.

It was a given that the Indian spinners would be hard to handle on a track given just how much purchase Ajaz had got. But Siraj’s surge had roughed New Zealand up so much that they just caved in. When No. 8’s 36 deliveries is the longest any batter has lasted in the middle, it tells you everything about what has preceded him.

The left-hander Henry Nicholls’ dismissal summed up New Zealand’s predicament. Ashwin came first ball from round the stumps and tossed it up outside off. Nicholls pushed forward to defend, assuming some away turn. But there wasn’t any as the ball slid in with the angle between bat and pad to strike off stump. To say that Ashwin was too good right away for Nicholls’ hopeful forward defence would be an understatement.

They went caught off the outside edge at slip, they went caught off the inside edge at leg slip. They went to tumbling catches at short leg, they went to rebound catches off the wicketkeeper at silly point. In short, it was all happening, and there was nowhere to hide.

India rubbed it in when they did not enforce the follow-on after a first-innings lead of 263 runs. Having bowled nearly 110 overs across three and a half sessions, New Zealand were back in the heat and humidity within three hours for more punishment.

One of the options to accommodate the incoming skipper Kohli for this match was to make Cheteshwar Pujara open. That happened in the second innings, as Shubman Gill had taken a hit from Nicholls on the elbow while fielding at forward short leg and did not come out to bat.

Pujara nudged his first ball from Ajaz for four and even pulled him later over the deep midwicket boundary, his first six in Test cricket since the Pune Test against South Africa in October 2019. He’d yorked himself charging out to Ajaz in the first innings but he now stepped out and drove him for four through extra cover.

Agarwal, who had stretched his first innings to 150 in the morning, kept batting fluently, hitting six fours. He and Pujara closed the day with India 332 ahead, shutting the door firmly on New Zealand.

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