INDORE: Wily off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin backed himself Monday to outfox any batsman in the world after his six wickets in the third and final Test against New Zealand put India in pole position to complete a whitewash.
Ashwin, who is the leading wicket-taker in the series with 20 dismissals, was again the standout performer as the hosts bowled out the tourists for 299 and secured a 258-run lead on day three of the match.
India, who did not enforce the follow-on, were 18 for no loss in their second innings at stumps, with Murali Vijay (11) and Cheteshwar Pujara (1) stretching the lead to 276.
Opener Gautam Gambhir retired hurt on six after aggravating a shoulder injury, which he first suffered while fielding, as he dived into his crease to avoid a run-out.
Earlier Ashwin ensured that India continued their domination of the series at their newest Test venue, Indore’s Holkar Stadium, after recording his 20th five-wicket haul to destroy the New Zealand batting.
“It is pretty special (five-for). It is very important for me to get into a good rhythm… once I get into that good rhythm I think I can beat any batsman in the world: that’s where I stand right now,” he told reporters.
Opener Martin Guptill, who struck form with a gritty 72, and James Neesham (71) put up the main resistance against an inspired Indian attack.
The Black Caps, who began the day on 28 without loss, had made a strong start in response to India’s commanding first innings score of 557 for five declared, but then lost five wickets for just 30 runs.
After Tom Latham fell just before lunch for 53, caught and bowled by Ashwin, India turned the screws on the visitors by taking a further five wickets in the afternoon session.
Guptill counter-attacked with 10 fours and two sixes during his 144-ball stay but was unlucky to be run out by Ashwin while backing up.
Ashwin’s other victims included New Zealand skipper Kane Williamson, who was bowled for eight after dragging a turning delivery onto his stumps.
It was the third time in a row that the Black Caps’ star batsman had been dismissed by Ashwin.
– Williamson battleplan –
“I came into the series with a plan, especially taking off from where Kane Williamson got out in Bangalore when they came here last time” in 2012, said Ashwin.
“He lunged forward and got out at slip. He just lunges outside off stump so that’s one thing I thought I would repeat in good certainty in the series.”
Neesham and B.J. Watling put on 53 for the sixth wicket to raise hopes of a revival, but left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja broke the stand by bowling Watling for 23 after the wicketkeeper-batsman had struck four boundaries.
Neesham carried on the good work after tea to register his fourth Test fifty in 10 games but ran out of steam after being trapped lbw by Ashwin, who soon wiped out the tail.
“I think New Zealand has definitely batted well. They have been in the game more than any other team has been when they toured here,” said Ashwin, praising the fighting quality of the opposition batsmen.
Indian skipper Virat Kohli had played a vital role Sunday with a career-best 211, his second double-century in Tests.
Kohli’s record 365-run fourth-wicket stand with Ajinkya Rahane (188) was the highlight of India’s first innings after the hosts elected to bat first.
India, who took an unassailable 2-0 lead in Kolkata, are looking to complete their second successive home series whitewash against New Zealand.