Indore, Oct 10 (IANS) Riding on star off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin's 20th haul of five wickets or more, India put themselves in a commanding position reaching 18/0 to take an overall lead of 276 runs over New Zealand at stumps on day three of the third and final Test at the Holkar stadium here on Monday.
Ashwin led the Indian charge with six wickets and two brilliant run-outs along with left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja (2/80) to bundle out the visitors for a paltry 299 just after the tea break in response to India's first innings total of 557/5 declared.
Despite taking a huge lead and in a position to enforce the follow on, India skipper Virat Kohli opted to bat for a second time. Opener Murali Vijay (11) and one down Cheteshwar Pujara (1) were at the crease when the umpires decided to unsettle the bails.
Pujara had to rush to the middle after veteran opener Gautam Gambhir (6) was forced to return to the pavilion with a shoulder injury.
Playing in his 39th Test, Ashwin ran through the Kiwi top order comprising Tom Latham (52), Kane Williamson (8), Ross Taylor (0), Luke Ronchi (0) and James Neesham (71) besides running out top scorer Martin Guptil (72) and Jeetan Patel (18). He later dismissed tailender Trent Boult (0) to finish things off in style.
Jadeja complimented his senior partner well by packing back stumper B.J. Watling (23) and Mitchell Santner (22).
Already on the backfoot after losing the series 0-2, the Kiwis got off to a good start with openers Guptill and Latham, who put on 118 runs but ran out of steam once Kohli introduced spin from both ends.
Apart from the opening partnership, Neesham was involved in two vital stands -- 53 for the sixth wicket with Watling and 52 for the seventh wicket with Santner but that was not enough to take the visitors anywhere near the Indian total.
Earlier, resuming the day at 28 for no loss, the visitors had just lost the wicket of Latham when Ashwin trapped him plumb in front in the morning session as they went for lunch at 125/1.
The Indians wrested the upper hand early on in the post-lunch session when New Zealand lost three wickets in four overs.
The Chennai tweaker picked up his second wicket when Williamson dragged the ball onto his stumps while attempting a cut.
The off-spinner then sent Taylor back to the pavilion in his very next over before a straight drive by Ronchi deflected off his hand to hit the stumps at the non-striker's end and catch Guptill out of his crease.
Ashwin then picked up his fourth wicket when Ajinkya Rahane showed some excellent fielding at first slip to send back Ronchi.
Watling and Neesham then tried to bring the Kiwi innings back on track. But Jadeja found Watling's outside edge with a delivery that turned away sharply after pitching to put the visitors into further trouble just before the tea break.
After the tea break, it was a one way traffic for India as both the spinners lost little time in taking the remaining four wickets before Kohli opted against enforcing the follow-on.
Eyeing a 3-0 whitewash, India will now aim to consolidate their lead and give a stiff target when they come out to bat on Tuesday.