With India having wrapped up the series against England, the main interest coming into the final Test was whether the hosts will finish with a flourish to make the margin 4-0 for only the second time ever. (HIGHLIGHTS)
However, the first two days have proved hard work for the host bowlers on a flat MA Chidambaram Stadium pitch, particularly for off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin, who would have hoped to continue his brilliant run. (SCORECARD)
In such tough conditions for bowlers, fielding is the crucial area, but Moeen Ali made India pay for dropping him on the opening day when he was yet to score, going on to make 146, his second-highest Test score after reaching his second century of the series.
It required persistent and well-directed short-pitched bowling, first by Ishant Sharma and then by Umesh Yadav to finally exploit Moeen Ali’s weakness with the left-hander’s hurried hook shot caught at square leg.
Although India took three wickets in the morning session, after Ashwin struck off the fifth delivery by claiming all-rounder Ben Stokes, Liam Dawson made a fine first impression after being roped in as the fifth debutant in the series by England.
The innings particularly stood out as he was struck on the helmet by Ishant Sharma off the second delivery he faced. But Adil Rashid and Dawson bettered an 83-year record for the eighth wicket by adding 108 runs.
However, the Chennai pitch has come as a surprise. Although the final preparation at this venue, which is traditionally helpful to spinners, was affected by Cyclone Vardah that hit the city on Monday, it has shown little life after the first hour on the opening day.
With little bounce available from the good-length spot, Ashwin got little reward even when he extracted turn as batsmen had plenty of time to play off the backfoot or leave the deliveries alone.
It left skipper Virat Kohli helpless as he rotated his bowlers and waited for something to give.
The ease with which KL Rahul and Parthiv Patel, roped in to open after spending almost two days keeping wicket in the heat, handled the England bowling suggested more misery in store for the bowlers on Sunday.
Vijay’s injury scare
Patel had to open after the other Chennai player, Murali Vijay, also didn’t enjoy a good day. Vijay, who scored his second century of the series in the fourth Test in Mumbai, bruised his shoulder while fielding and went off the field. Team officials are hopeful the treatment in the evening will help him bat.
Vijay, one of India’s consistent batsmen, has repeatedly suffered injuries. A hamstring injury during last year’s Zimbabwe tour flared up in the Sri Lanka Test series in August 2015 and he again suffered a sore thumb during the West Indies tour, and ended up missing two of the four Tests with the final game in Port-of-Spain, where he returned, all but washed out.
With three days left, India will have to bat well into the fourth day to bring England under any pressure, and hope the pitch breaks at some point to bring the spinners into the equation.