The World Test Championship Final is beautifully positioned to provide a fascinating final day, with India set to resume on 64/2 and with a lead of just 32.
Washouts on the first and fourth days of the Test in Southampton mean that Wednesday’s reserve day will be utilised, with up to 98 overs available.
And all results are still possible heading into that sixth day at the Hampshire Bowl, after 10 wickets fell on Tuesday, with Mohammed Shami and Tim Southee the standout performers.
New Zealand were 101/2 at the resumption on Tuesday morning, 116 runs behind and with Ross Taylor and captain Kane Williamson at the crease. But it was the relentless Shami (4/76) who defined a tight opening session.
The Indian seamer made the breakthrough after 14 circumspect overs, drawing Taylor (11) into a mistimed shot that was brilliantly caught diving forward by Shubman Gill in the covers.
After Henry Nicholls (7) edged an Ishant Sharma (3/48) delivery into the slips it was Shami again who struck, cleaning up BJ Watling (1) with a full delivery that straightened a touch and castled the Kiwi keeper’s stumps.
That dismissal could prove to be Watling’s final one in Test cricket, with the 35-year-old set to retire from Tests after this match. And his departure ensured that the morning was firmly India’s, with New Zealand adding just 32 runs in the session, and Williamson becalmed on 19 from 112 deliveries.
The circumspect approach continued for New Zealand after the break, with Williamson and Colin de Grandhomme (13) building a slow but promising partnership before Shami returned, trapping the all-rounder on his crease in the second over of his new spell.
Facing the prospect of handing India an unlikely first-innings lead, new batter Kyle Jamieson (21) launched a counter-attack, going along at a-run-a-ball before smoking a six over the long-on boundary from the 15th delivery he faced.
But Shami tempted Jamieson into taking on a bouncer next up, tucking the batter up with a perfect line and drawing a top edge that was well-taken by Jasprit Bumrah at long-leg.
Williamson (49) and Tim Southee (30) steered New Zealand into a first innings lead, and as long as the New Zealand skipper was at the crease it seemed likely that his side would take control of the Test. But Sharma took the crucial wicket as he lured the Kiwi captain into a rare rash shot, playing away from his body on the back foot and cutting the ball straight to Virat Kohli at a wide third slip.
The two Indian spinners Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja returned to clean up the tail with a wicket apiece, but not before Southee had crunched a further 20 runs, all in boundaries, to help his side to a lead of 32 – an advantage that could yet prove significant on the final day.
Southee’s two maximums took his career tally to 75 sixes in Test cricket, 15th in the all-time standings and just three behind legendary boundary-hitter MS Dhoni from 33 fewer innings.
India’s reply got off to an inauspicious start when Southee’s impactful afternoon continued, trapping Shubman Gill in-front with a full inswinging delivery that the young opener played all around.
Rohit Sharma and Cheteshwar Pujara looked set to bring India to the close just one wicket down, as they took their side into a lead and past 50.
But the opener Sharma was struck on the pads when shouldering arms to a Southee ball that hooped back in, falling for 30 inside the final half-hour. And India skipper Virat Kohli survived a blow to the helmet in a testing late examination, with the captain to take strike when play restarts on Wednesday.
Southee was the pick of the New Zealand bowlers, taking 2/17 from his nine overs. And the impressive Jamieson was again metronomic with the ball, conceding just 15 runs off his ten overs, picking up four maidens in the process.
A full 98 overs are available on the Reserve Day on Wednesday, with the World Test Championship Mace still very much on the line.