Final session on the fifth day of a Test match: the cacophony of a crowd armed with drums and horns, tense discussions among players, umpires under duress, close calls, deafening defences, enthralling dismissals, light metres, vibrating stadium floors, policemen dancing with fans, crackers bursting on nearby terraces.
In the end, it was a draw, and it took two New Zealand players of Indian origin to ensure it so.
Rachin Ravindra played 91 balls and Ajaz Patel faced 23 balls as the lights faded at the Green Park in Kanpur to pull off a heist with unprecedented temerity. But the result only mattered so because of how visceral the entire experience of the opening Test had been for everyone.
After all, for the first time in a long time, a Test match in India was not a foregone conclusion and was thoroughly fought over until the sunset over the iconic peepal tree and bad light forced an end at 4:22 pm with New Zealand on 165/9. In fact, the last time anyone pushed India this far at home was Sri Lanka in 2017 in Kolkata.
Though this was a battle of the World Test Championship finalists, many thought New Zealand would roll over for New Zealand v India at Lord’s is very different from India v New Zealand here.
It was in many ways, but when India set New Zealand a target of 284 runs and picked off a lucky wicket late on Sunday, few thought this game would meander into the dying minutes.
That New Zealand pushed and pushed despite having to bat the whole of the fifth day is going to be a stuff of legends. They couldn’t pull off a win on Monday, but they looked good trying. And their opponents reiterated why winning a Test in India is not only about what happens between bat and ball, it’s also an exercise in maintaining equilibrium when 15,000 people shout and scream throughout the day for no real reason.
At one stage, New Zealand would have thought a win was possible, what with Tom Latham (52) and nightwatchman William Somerville (36) playing out the entire opening session. Williamson’s arrival further amplified that range of possibility.
By now it was clear that India needed someone with Virat Kohli’s energy to get them going. Shoulders slouched, barely any words were said between fielders, R Ashwin looked frustrated and stand-in skipper Ajinkya Rahane was in his own bubble. Still, they were all very patient.
The pacers - Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma - were running in hard even when it seemed like they didn’t want to. Umesh’s short ball to get rid of Somerville right after the lunch break was exactly the kind of energy India needed. At the other end, Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Axar Patel were all consistent to a fault.
Besides the pitch rendering them blunt to an extent, the Kiwi batsmen showed excellent application, and so when they took tea at 125/4, needing 159 runs to win, there was a sliver of hope left for Williamson remained.
Only Jadeja’s arm-ball in the 70th over didn’t agree with the New Zealand skipper. The ball stayed low and it was so obviously in front of the stumps that Jadeja didn’t even bother appealing. He ran over to his team-mates almost as if to say ‘this is over’.
It was soon to be as Ashwin kicked into another gear. He had only just overtaken Harbhajan Singh (417) as the third-highest wicket-taker for India, and began to bowl like he was in a hurry to catch up to Kapil Dev’s tally of 434. Jadeja too got a kick out of the wicket by now and was running through the Kiwi tail. Only Rachin and Ajaz, and a light metre stood in the way now.
The crowd let out a collective groan when the umpires asked the players to walk off, but in time they cheered for they were witness to an experience that transcended winning and losing.