KOLKATA, Dec 8 (PTI): A spineless India were on the verge of a second successive humiliating defeat in their own backyard against England who were within sniffing distance of an emphatic victory in the third cricket Test here today.
After conceding a mammoth 207-run lead, India�s famed batsmen put up a pathetic display but R Ashwin (83 batting) and the tailenders delayed the inevitable as the hosts reached 239 for nine at close on the penultimate day.
Ashwin, who flopped as a bowler, provided some resistance as the last two wickets added 80 runs after being at a precarious 159 for eight at one stage, forcing the game to stretch into the fifth day with India having a slender lead of 32.
With one full day left, England were on course for a huge win and take an unassailable 2-1 lead in the four-match series.
India got off to a good start with Virender Sehwag (49) and Gautam Gambhir (40) putting on 86 runs but the innings completely came apart after the lunch break with wickets falling with embarrassing ease on an Eden Gardens track, which gave some assistance to the bowlers.
While the Indian bowlers looked completely ineffective, the English bowlers exploited the conditions far better and raise hopes of their first series win on Indian soil in 28 years.
After the humiliating 10-wicket defeat in Mumbai, the hosts once again seemed clueless in their own den with neither batting nor bowling clicking against an English side which was the one expected to struggle on the sub-continental dustbowls.
Steve Finn (3/37), James Anderson (2/38) and Graeme Swann were (2/70) were the wicket-takers for England.
Barring Ashwin, none of the Indian batsmen showed the stomach for a fight out as they perished to poor strokes. Cheteshwar Pujara (8), Sachin Tendulkar (5), Yuvraj Singh (11), Virat Kohli (20) and skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni (0) were the big guns who failed to fire on a track in which England posted 523 in the first innings.
Earlier in the morning, resuming at the overnight score of 509 for six, England were all out for 523 within the first half an hour�s play.
Ashwin struck back to back boundaries to Swann to notch up his third half-century that also helped India avoid the humiliation of an innings loss as the Eden, which registered the highest attendance today.
Lacklustre with his off-spin, Ashwin delighted the crowd with a straight drive of Anderson, following it up with a pull of Steven Finn as India ensured England had to bat again.
Ashwin�s shared a 38-run ninth wicket partnership with Ishant Sharma (10) to avoid an innings victory and later he stitched an undefeated 42 runs with Pragyan Ojha (3 batting).
Gambhir was again involved in a run out mix-up, for the second time in the match, with Cheteshwar Pujara (8) becoming the victim this time.
The English turnaround came in the post-lunch session as India lost six wickets for 36 runs as their fight to save the match went up in smoke.
Earlier, the first session belonged to India who dominated the proceedings � both with the ball and bat � for the first time in the match.
First, India scalped four wickets in 4.3 overs to restrict England�s first innings lead to 207 as they managed to add 14 runs to their overnight total.
Then, Indian openers Sehwag and Gambhir showed a lot of positivity when they came out to bat in the second innings as they raced to 86 for no loss at lunch but only to go down the drain after the break.
India committed a harakiri of sorts after they resumed after lunch.
India 1st innings: 316
England 1st innings (overnight 509 for 6): Alastair Cook run out 190, Nick Compton lbw b Ojha 57, Jonathan Trott c Dhoni b Ojha 87, Kevin Pietersen lbw b Ashwin 54, Ian Bell c Dhoni b Sharma 5, Samit Patel c Sehwag b Ojha 33, Matt Prior c Dhoni b Khan 41, Graeme Swann c Sehwag b Ojha 21, Steve Finn not out 4, James Anderson c Sehwag b Ashwin 9, Monty Panesar lbw Ashwin 0. Extras: (B-13, LB-4, NB-5) 22. Total (all out; 167.3 overs) 523. Fall of wickets: 1-165, 2-338, 3-359, 4-395, 5-420, 6-453, 7-510, 8-510, 9-523. Bowling: Zaheer Khan 31-6-94-1, Ishant Sharma 29-8-78-1, Ravichandran Ashwin 52.3-9-183-3, Pragyan Ojha 52-10-142-4, Yuvraj Singh 3-1-9-0
India 2nd innings: Gautam Gambhir c Prior b Finn 40, Virender Sehwag b Swann 49, Cheteshwar Pujara run out 8, Sachin Tendulkar c Trott b Swann 5, Virat Kohli c Prior b Finn 20, Yuvraj Singh b Anderson 11, MS Dhoni c Cook b Anderson 0, Ravichandran Ashwin not out 83, Zaheer Khan lbw b Finn 0, Ishant Sharma b Panesar 10, Pragyan Ojha not out 3. Extras: (B-8, LB-2) 10. Total: (For 9 wickets; 83 overs) 239. Fall of wickets: 1-86, 2-98, 3-103, 4-107, 5-122, 6-122, 7-155, 8-159, 9-197. Bowling: James Anderson 15-4-38-2, Steven Finn 17-6-37-3, Monty Panesar 22-1-75-1, Graeme Swann 28-9-70-2, Samit Patel 1-0-9-0.