India positioned themselves for a massive win in their 500th cricket Test by polishing off the New Zealand top-order after setting them a colossal 434-run target, propelled by unbeaten half-centuries from Rohit Sharma and Ravindra Jadeja on Sunday.
New Zealand were tottering at 93 for four in their second innings with the exuberant Luke Ronchi (38) and the steady Mitchell Santner (8) at the crease when stumps were drawn on the fourth day.
The Black Caps require a history-defying effort to win the Test as no team has ever chased such a daunting target. They still need 341 runs and batting three sessions on a fifth-day wicket is not something visiting teams have achieved often in India.
Earlier, negotiating a spin-friendly track with aplomb, Rohit (68) and Jadeja (50) raised a 100-run stand in quick time after India lost four wickets, starting the day at 159 for one.
Left-arm spinner Mitchell Santner dismissed two batsmen while Ish Sodhi and Mark Craig claimed a wicket apiece but only to see the next Indian pair hammer them around the park as India declared their second innings at 377 for five at the stroke of tea.
Rohit and Jadeja never looked uncomfortable on the deteriorating fourth-day Green Park track, entertaining the Sunday crowd with some quality strokes, including three sixes by the left-hander.
However, when Indian spinners bowled, New Zealand batsmen were were all at sea on the pitch as off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin removed both the openers -Martin Guptill (0) and Tom Latham (2) in the space of five balls to cause ripples in the rival camp.
Ashwin could have got Kane Williamson (25), when he was on 16, had Umesh Yadav held on to a tough chance at square leg boundary but the off-spinner did not have to wait for long to see the back of the New Zealand captain as he trapped him soon and completed a milestone of 200 Test wickets.
He is only the ninth Indian to get that figure but fastest among all, doing it in his 37th match. He bettered Harbhajan Singh's record, who took 46 matches.
Ashwin is the second fastest in the world behind Australian Clarrie Grimmett (36 matches).
Earlier, after losing three wickets in the opening session, India also lost Ajinkya Rahane (40) but Rohit and Jadeja ensured that the hosts do not suffer any more reversal after that.
They raised an unconquered 100-run stand for the sixth wicket and the moment Jadeja got a single off Santner to get to his half-century, Indian captain Virat Kohli declared and umpired called the tea break.
Jadeja celebrated his milestone by wielding his bat like a sword before the two batsmen walked off the field. Rohit and Jadeja played in contrasting fashion with the left-hander being more aggressive even as they scored 125 runs in the second session after Rahane was trapped by Santner.
Both overnight batsmen Murali Vijay (76) and Cheteshwar Pujara (78) departed along with skipper Virat Kohli (18) in the morning session but took their lead past the 300-run mark by adding 93 runs to the overnight total.
Vijay and Pujara batted for about 10 overs together before Santner broke the 133-stand between them by trapping the former. Vijay played for turn, missed and the ball struck his pad before hitting the outside edge of his bat. He could add only 12 runs to his overnight total. The New Zealand spinners managed to turn a few balls, creating some doubts in the minds of the Indian batsmen. Kohli and Pujara played on merit of the balls and found occasional boundary. It was not easy find quick boundaries.
Off-break bowler Mark Craig ensured that Kohli does not stay for long at the crease. The home captain attempted a sweep but just managed a top edge that flew to deep mid-wicket where Sodhi took the catch.
Kane Williamson persisted with Santner and Craig for some time before bringing back Sodhi. The leg-break bowler ended Pujara's stay at the crease by having him caught at slips. 15 minutes before the lunch break, Williamson handed the ball for the first time to paceman Neil Wagner but the Indian batsmen saw him and others through to the lunch.
Ashwin fastest Indian to reach 200 wickets
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<div style="display: inline !important;">Off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin became the fastest Indian and second overall to take 200 wickets, reaching the milestone in his 37th Test.
Ashwin trapped New Zealand skipper Kane Williamson in front to get to the 200-mark on day four of the first Test at the Green Park. The spinner had also got the better of Williamson in the first innings, when he went through the defence of the visiting captain with a vicious off-spinner. With this feat, Ashwin left behind the likes of Dennis Lillee and Waqar Younis, who took 38 Tests to get to 200 wickets. South African pacer Dale Steyn took 39 Tests to reach the landmark. Only leg-spinner Clarrie Grimmett got to the double century of wickets faster than Ashwin as the Australian reached there in 36 Tests.
Ashwin, who has so far taken seven wickets in the Kanpur Test, said he enjoyed his last 100 wickets. “Ever since coming back from Australia (in 2014-15), I have been enjoying my last 100 wickets. I was planning my wickets better,” said Ashwin after stumps on day four. “The challenge from the opposition is always good. For example, Williamson was playing really well. Taylor was playing back. It’s a combination of playing good batsmen, conditions and match situations that makes this satisfying. “I think its too early to talk about my achievements I have a long way to go. (12 more Tests to go in the season) Very important to take one day at a time, Test cricket can set you back if you take it for granted. Be greedy in terms of what you want to achieve, but preparing for a Test, you have to take it one day at a time,” he added.