International Cricket: Ashwin key to Black Caps scalp

02 December 2021 10:07:07 CET
Ravi Ashwin is now his country's third-highest wicket-taker

A bumper year of cricket will conclude with an Ashes series between England and Australia and the Big Bash League but first India and New Zealand are set to lock horns in a decisive Test match starting in Mumbai on Friday.

And in the second and final match of the short series, it is still all to play for after the first match at Green Park in Kanpur ended all square.

India hoping to learn lessons from Kanpur frustration

That match in Kanpur was a frustrating one for India.

They started the Test with a total of 345 all out, which was a decent score on a pitch which offered plenty of spin, before the Kiwis fell 49 runs short in their reply.

Looking to build on their narrow lead, India then reached 234-7 before declaring, setting their opponents a target of 284 to win.

And although it looked like India had made an electric start, reducing the tourists to 155-9, the final New Zealand pair of Rachin Ravindra and Ajaz Patel stood their ground and saw out 52 balls together before bad light ended play with just over ten minutes still remaining.

It turned into an attritional battle and even though that represented New Zealand's tenth successive Test match without defeat - that run included eight triumphs - India were the better side.

Kohli return can help hosts in Mumbai

They are 4/7 to win the second Test with New Zealand 9/2 and the draw 3/1 and the return of skipper Virat Kohli, who missed the first match, may have influenced those prices. Ajinkya Rahane could be the one to make way for Kohli's return to the team.

Kohli can be backed at 7/1 to be the player of the match at the Wankhede Stadium, having scored a total of 218 runs in his most recent three Test matches which were against England in the summer series.

The Wankhede is also a memorable venue for Kohli, who famously blasted a first-innings score of 235 against England there back in December 2016, naturally scooping the player of the match accolade on that occasion.

He will certainly be one to keep an eye on as will middle-order batsman Shreyas Iyer, who marked his international Test debut with scores of 105 and 65 in the first match against New Zealand. Punters may look to back Iyer to be player of the match at 14/1 in the second contest between the sides.

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While the first Test may not have gone India's way, Ravi Ashwin would at least have been celebrating the fact he surpassed Harbhajan Singh as his country's third-highest wicket-taker with his figures of 3-35 in the second innings in Kanpur.

He took six in total in that match and is now on 419 Test wickets for India with only Anil Kumble (619) and Kapil Dev (434) ahead of him in the all-time standings.

After breaking that record, Ashwin said:  "It is a wonderful milestone. It is a matter of pride. I got my 200th wicket on the same ground and now I surpassed Harbhajan Singh's tally on this very same ground again."

And, regarding the first Test stalemate, he added: "After the game, it is still sinking in, the fact that we could not win, we were so close yet so far. It's a tough thing to get over for me."

His latest figures all mean Ashwin has taken an impressive 44 Test wickets for his country in 2021 in matches with Australia, England and the Kiwis. At 15/2, he is another player punters may be considering in the player of the match market.

As for New Zealand, captain Kane Williamson is rated 10/1 to be player of the match but only scored a total of 42 runs in his two innings last time out.

Opener Tom Latham, meanwhile, is available at 14/1 and was exceptional in that opening Test with a knock of 95, which featured ten boundaries, in his first innings before he made 52 in his second.

India will be well aware of the dangers New Zealand pose, having not only been frustrated by them earlier this week but having also lost to them in the inaugural World Test Championship at the Hampshire Bowl back in June this year.

New Zealand won by eight wickets on that occasion but will have their work cut out repeating the feat in India conditions.

The weather in Mumbai is set to be sunny and cloudy for the duration of the second Test with highs of around 31C, while the Wankhede Stadium, much like Green Park, is renowned for its low bounce and should generally aid spinners such as Ashwin.

The second and final Test in the series starts on Friday and could run through to next Tuesday.

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