The stubborn resistance by Ish Sodhi, Colin de Grandhomme and Neil Wagner would be a part of Test cricket’s folklore.
Years have passed since the British rule ended in the countries like India, South Africa and Zimbabwe. Those tough days might be history now but are certainly not forgotten yet. Whereas sports are concerned these nations have never brought those harsh feelings to ruin their respective ties and have been playing England in almost every sport for a very long time. Since cricket was created by England, people tend to connect a few results to the independence history. One such instance took place at Christchurch on Tuesday.
New Zealand resumed the final day of the second Test against England on 42 for no less. England needed to make 10 breakthroughs to level the series, while a draw would hand a historic series win to the Kiwis. In the first session, New Zealand lost four wickets – apart from Tom Latham, their top-order and half of the middle-order was gone – Jeet Raval, Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor and Henry Nicholls. Just before England took the new ball, they dismissed New Zealand’s wicketkeeper-batsman BJ Watling too. Later on, England went into the final session of the day just four wickets away from saving another embarrassing series loss that would just make their bad summer worse.
Out of nowhere, the tail-enders stood up for the hosts and turned England’s nightmare into reality. What followed was a rare moment when a force from Brit-ruled South Africa, Zimbabwe and India came together to defeat the British. Yes, it was fitting result when a Zimbabwe-born player, Colin de Grandhomme, South Africa-born Neil Wagner and India-born Ish Sodhi showed immense resistance on the fifth day to save the Test for New Zealand and slammed England’s face with a series loss and their 12th away Test loss since their 2015 tour of UAE. Apart from winning in South Africa, England have lost in the UAE, India, Australia and now in New Zealand. Moreover, with that series win, the BlackCaps finally had a home Test series win against England after 34 long years.
Batting for 200 minutes, Ish Sodhi remained unbeaten on 56 off 168 balls, his 3rd Test fifty, during New Zealand’s chase of 382 runs in the last innings. He survived anything and everything that a frustrated England threw at him and while he did his bit, the contribution from de Grandhomme and Wagner cannot be ignored. It was Sodhi, who supported de Grandhomme when the two batted together before Sodhi took over the charge following de Grandhomme’s wicket and then it was Wagner who proved why he should not be underrated for the Kiwis.
The first two sessions of the day belonged to Latham, who scored 207-ball 83. When debutant Jack Leach picked his second Test wicket by removing set batsman Tom Latham, it brought in Sodhi to join de Grandhomme in the middle. From here England needed four wickets to win and New Zealand still needed to bat for 57.1 overs to draw the Test. Out of the 57.1 overs, Sodhi would go on to bat for 33.3 overs in the next three hours or so. Almost the entire final session had the English fielders literally surrounded the on-strike batsman for any chance of a catch. Sodhi and de Grandhomme shared a seventh-wicket stand of 57 runs where the latter contributed 31 off 72 balls, while Sodhi was trying to settle down so he managed to chip in with 26 runs off 83 deliveries.
When the two looked had gelled well and were driving New Zealand forward towards a draw, Mark Wood’s short ball did the trick for England. De Grandhomme got carried away in the heat of the moment and took a call to pull the short ball, but was only caught by Leach. That was a massive breakthrough for the touring party which might have given them a hope to win the Test and save the series. However, from there on began the real frustration for Joe Root and Co. Wagner walked in next and not many would have thought that the pair of Sodhi and Wagner could save a Test for New Zealand someday.
The two put on a gritty stand for the eighth wicket to draw the Test. Throughout the final session, there was a little hope for England that they still were in the game. But as the game progressed, they just could’t do anything. They bowled seven bowlers – James Anderson, Stuart Broad, who picked two off the first two balls of the day, Wood, Leach, Ben Stokes, Root and David Malan but none could break the stubborn Sodhi-Wagner stand. Sodhi spend 31 deliveries on 48, the likes of Anderson, Broad and Stokes bowled throughout that perird but were not successful in breaking the determined tail-ender.
Not to forget, Sodhi was roped in the playing Xi because of Todd Astle’s sudden injury and every player aims to make full use of a gifted comeback; Sodhi was no different and in fact, he was one of those players who converted his comeback into a memorable game for his life and was his country as well. In the 122nd over, bowled by Malan, Sodhi smashed the second ball over mid-wicket for a boundary and brought up his third Test fifty. Prior to this knock, Sodhi had batted for as many as 100 balls only once in the past. It was against Pakistan in 2014. On Tuesday, England’s desperation turned out to be directly proportional to Sodhi’s luck.
In exasperation, England bowlers missed their basics, did not strike the correct line and lengths towards the end and that made by then settled Sodhi to finish his job successfully.
England eventually did break the partnership which by then was 37 off 188 balls. Wagner had scored sevens facing 103 balls, while Sodhi was on 56. Wagner was caught off an edge by James Vince at silly point off England skipper Root’s bowling. Wagner unsure of the touch immediately made the T-sign. The replays showed the edge and umpire’ decision stayed. As Wagner walked off the field and Tim Southee made his way to join Sodhi, umpires signalled the end of play due to bad light and New Zealand’s historic series win over England, their first since 1999.
That brought an end to England’s atrocious summer. Meanwhile, there were all smiles in the New Zealand camp. Emotions overtook the players and camera panned on Sodhi rushed towards Wagner and gave him a tight hug worth the hard work and unbelievable effort from the two for 31.2 overs for the eighth wicket. That was Test cricket at the best, the format which had not stuck the Kiwi doors a lot this season. New Zealand Captain Williamson, who joined the handful of BlackCaps captains to clinch Test series wins over England, expressed his disappointment over the number of Tests they played this season – four.
This two-Test series against England was the testimony to the fact that the current New Zealand team are slowly getting past their over dependability on their senior batsmen and bowlers. The likes of Sodhi, de Grandhomme, Nicholls, Wagner, Astle, all have stepped up at some point and that’s what the World No. 3 Test team needs right now – a full-fledged side with various match winners/savers.