Ravichandran Ashwin out-spun the New Zealand batsmen with another magical spell of spin bowling as India completed a 3-0 whitewash by winning the third and final Test by a whopping 321 runs in Indore on Tuesday.
Chasing an improbable 475-run target, Ashwin ripped through the brittle New Zealand batting line-up with a sensational spell of 7 for 59 to skittle the opposition for a paltry 153 in 44.5 overs with an entire day to spare at the Holkar Stadium, which hosted its first ever Test.
The 30-year-old finished with a match haul of 13 for 140 and ended the series with a bagful of 27 wickets to be named man-of-the-series and help India regain number one position in Tests.
Earlier, resuming at 18 for no loss, the hosts rode on Cheteshwar Pujara's unbeaten 101, his eighth Test ton, and an aggressive 50 by comeback man Gautam Gambhir, before declaring their second innings at 216 for three an hour before the tea break.
There was hardly any resistance from the Kiwi batsmen as Ashwin scalped one wicket after another to demolish the opposition in just about three hours of play, much to the delight of a near capacity crowd who thronged the stadium on the Dussehra holiday.
The pitch in this match did not turn as much as it did in the earlier two games but still New Zealand batsmen looked clueless against the Indian spinners.
Indian coach Anil Kumble and his entire staff erupted in joy in the dressing room as Ashwin fittingly took the last wicket with a return catch of Trent Boult, triggering wild celebrations on the field as well. It was also Kumble's first series win at home after the success in the West Indies.
The focus will now shift to the five match ODI series beginning at Dharamsala from October 16 with Mahendra Singh Dhoni taking over the reins of the team from Kohli.
Such was the dominance of the Indian spinners that Ashwin and Jadeja accounted for 41 out of 60 New Zealand wickets in the series.
It was also Ashwin’s sixth ten-wicket haul in 39 Tests and his second innings figures bettered his earlier 7 for 66 heist.
Like in the first innings, left arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja provided the ideal foil to the off spinner by taking two wickets.
For New Zealand Martin Guptill (29), captain Kane Williamson (27), senior batsman Ross Taylor (32) and wicket keeper B Watling (23 not out) were the main scorers as Ashwin ran through their batting order.
India had won the opening and second Tests at Kanpur and Kolkata by 197 and 178 runs respectively and completed their total domination of New Zealand at this venue by winning it by the biggest margin in the rubber.
The 3-0 series triumph was the third for India in their last four home rubbers, the earlier ones achieved against Australia and West Indies, and stretched their enviable winning Test record at home to 12 out of 13 encounters, including the 3-0 rout of South Africa last season.
In the morning, pushed firmly on the back-foot when India took a huge first innings lead of 258 runs on Monday, New Zealand allowed the home team to score quickly, following Pujara’s unbeaten 101 in 148 balls and set them a daunting task on a wearing track.
Ashwin, who claimed 6 for 81 in New Zealand’s first innings, bagged the wickets of rival captain Kane Williamson (27), for the fourth time in the series, Ross Taylor (32), and Luke Ronchi for a duck, after opener Tom Latham had been trapped in front by Umesh Yadav.
He added to his tally the wickets of Mitchell Santner, Jeetan Patel and Matt Henry in his second spell, the last two in one over, as the Kiwis added just two runs and then came back for his third spell to break the last wicket stand between wicket keeper Watling and Boult by accepting the return catch of the last man to terminate the Kiwi innings and claim the match.
In between, Jadeja accounted for opener Guptill and all rounder James Neesham. Williamson, who went after Ashwin by hitting the off-spinner for a few onside fours, was trapped on the back foot as he played across, while the out-of-form Taylor also decided to attack the Indian spinner. He succeeded for a while before he too was beaten and bowled by a ripper that turned in from outside off.
Left-handed Ronchi lasted 18 balls before he was cleaned up by a sharply turning ball to give Ashwin his ninth wicket of the match.
The triple strike by Ashwin after Yadav’s early send-off of Latham left the visitors, who had lost the first two games of the series by huge run margins, staggering at 102 for 4.
While Ashwin was doing the damage from the pavilion end, from where he grabbed all six wickets in the first innings, Jadeja kept a tight rein at the other before he packed off well-set opener Martin Guptill (29) and James Neesham, who lasted just four balls, in successive overs to push the Kiwis on the brink of defeat.
Guptill, who top scored for the Kiwis with 72 in the first essay, was caught in front by Jadeja with a ball that slid through straight to breach his defensive bat while Neesham, the other plus-70 scorer in the New Zealand first innings, flicked straight to India skipper Virat Kohli at short mid-wicket.
In a matter of just seven overs New Zealand had lost four wickets to be gasping at 112 for 6. Ashwin was taken off while New Zealand progressed to 136 when he returned to bamboozle and pack off Santner, Patel and Henry in the space of six balls to push the visitors to the edge at 138 for 9 before adding the scalp of Boult.
Earlier in the day, Pujara continued his superb form with the bat to notch up his maiden hundred of the series as India declared their second innings closed with four and half sessions left to force yet another thumping victory.
India applied the closure soon after Pujara struck James Neesham for his ninth four to reach his 8th career century in 147 balls in his 38th game.
The other major contributor in the home team’s second innings was opener Gautam Gambhir, who made 50 in 56 balls with 6 fours, after he resumed his interrupted innings due to injury at the fall of opener Murali Vijay on Monday.
Gambhir, who made 29 on his comeback innings earlier in the match, thus compiled his career’s 22nd half century in his 57th Test which was his first in four years following his 60 in the first innings of the Kolkata Test against England in 2012.
After a relatively slow first session, India pressed on the accelerator in the post-lunch period and lost Kohli, trapped in front while attempting a sweep shot off Patel, in the process after he and Pujara had put on 48 runs in 60 balls for the third wicket.
Pujara, who surpassed 350 runs in the series during his knock, and Rahane then stitched an unbroken stand of 58 runs in 54 balls before the declaration came. India added 89 runs in 15 overs after lunch before the hosts set the visitors the steep target.
The century was the first for Pujara after 9 Test matches, his previous one (145 not out) coming in the third and final Colombo Test against Sri Lanka last August that paved the way for India’s 2-1 series victory.
His scores in this series read 62, 78, 87, 4 and 41 before Tuesday’s innings in the series after having notched up a double hundred and a hundred in the Duleep Trophy in the run-up to the international home season.
This century was Pujara’s sixth at home and second against the same opposition after his 159 at Hyderabad, his first Test hundred, in 2012.
Captain Kohli, who made a career-best 211 in the first innings, was dismissed for 17 while the other first innings centurion, Rahane, remained unbeaten on 23 to add to the excellent 188 he made in the first innings.
Jeetan Patel picked up 2 for 56 while Murali Vijay was run out for 19.