CHENNAI, Feb 15: Ravichandran Ashwin first gave a lesson on how to bowl on a rank turner and then provided a batting master-class with a sparkling hundred on a deteriorating strip, putting India on the brink of a massive series-levelling victory against England on the third day of the second Test here.
Ashwin’s fifth Test hundred – a gutsy 106 off 148 balls along with Virat Kohli’s near flawless 62 off 149 balls got India to a more than decent 286 in 85.5 overs, leaving England with an improbable target of 482 runs on a dust bowl.
At stumps, England were already crumbling at 53 for 3 and it would take nothing short of a miracle for England to bat for two days and save the match.
Even their resolute captain Joe Root and coach Chris Silverwood wouldn’t be optimistic on a track where exploding divots are making it extremely difficult to bat.
But difficult doesn’t mean impossible. Just like facing a quality seam bowler on a green top is an art, one needs plenty of skills and mental fortitude to counter spinners on a dust bowl.
India batted nearly 182 overs across two innings on a track that many deemed as under-prepared after England failed to score even 150.
India’s batting exhibition in the second innings was a statement for all the ‘Doubting Thomases’ on how to bat on a third-day track.
It only helped that Moeen Ali (32-7-98-4) and Jack Leach (33-6-100-4) were not half as good as Ashwin and Axar Patel were on the second day.
Both Moeen and Leach were bowling their deliveries at an identical pace unlike Ashwin who varied the speed. Also another marked difference between Ashwin’s deliveries was his pace through the air which was significantly more than Moeen’s.
If Rohit Sharma set it up with a classy Day 1 hundred, Ashwin and Kohli, in the next two days, didn’t take their feet off the pedal to put England in the tightest of corners.
Till the ball remained hard, England got three quick wickets leaving India in a spot at 65 for 4 but Kohli again seemed in a mood to make batting look easy.
He displayed defensive elegance, coming close to the pitch of the ball to take an off-stump guard in order to negate turn. He also used the sweep shot only for deliveries that were drifting down the leg-side.
There were seven boundaries, mostly drives and in Ashwin he found an able ally. They added 96 runs in 177 balls, a partnership that deflated England completely.
Ashwin relied on shots square of the wicket and left Kohli with the job of grafting, taking it upon himself to attack the England bowling.
Apart from the square cuts and the pull shots off spinners, he was ready to hit the flat-batted shots off pacers akin to tennis forehand shots.
There were 14 boundaries and a six in all during his best batting effort considering the previous four hundreds came against second-rated West Indies sides.
In the past one year, the Chennai based engineer has tremendously upgraded his variations and the confidence in ‘Ashwin the bowler’ has brought to the fore ‘Ashwin the batsman’.
India 1st Innings: 329
England 1st Innings: 134
India 2nd Innings (Overnight 54/1): Rohit Sharma st Foakes b Leach 26, Shubman Gill lbw b Leach 14, Cheteshwar Pujara run out (Ollie Pope/Foakes) 7, Virat Kohli lbw b Moeen 62, Rishabh Pant st Foakes b Leach 8, Ajinkya Rahane c Ollie Pope b Moeen 10, Axar Patel lbw b Moeen 7, Ravichandran Ashwin b Olly Stone 106, Kuldeep Yadav lbw b Moeen 3, Ishant Sharma c Olly Stone b Jack Leach 7, Mohammed Siraj not out 16. Extras: (B-5, LB-15) 20. Total: (All out in 85.5 overs) 286. Fall of wickets: 1-42, 2-55, 3-55, 4-65, 5-86, 6-106, 7-202, 8-210, 9-237, 10-286. Bowling: Olly Stone 6.5-1-21-1, Jack Leach 33-6-100-4, Moeen Ali 32-7-98-4, Joe Root 4-0-15-0, Stuart Broad 9-3-25-0, Daniel Lawrence 1-0-7-0.
England 2nd Innings: Rory Burns c Kohli b Ashwin 25, Dom Sibley lbw b Patel 3, Dan Lawrence not out 19, Jack Leach c Rohit Sharma b Patel, Joe Root not out 2. Extras: (B-4) 4. Total: (For 3 wickets in 19 overs) 53. Fall of wickets: 1-17, 2-49, 3-50. Bowling: Ishant Sharma 2-1-6-0, Axar Patel 9-3-15-2, Ravichandran Ashwin 8-1-28-1. – PTI