Spinners catapulted India ahead of England in the second Test with the visitors slipping to 103/5 at stumps on the second day in reply to India’s first innings 455. With three of the Rajkot Test’s four centurions dismissed by Friday evening, England’s first job would be to avoid follow-on.
However, that looks difficult with India’s spinners extracting sharp turn and bounce from a pitch that will become more difficult to bat on the third day.
It was evident the pitch would behave like this after England spinners Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid got purchase in the morning. Virat Kohli didn’t get to an anticipated double hundred, but India’s lower order responded again, with R Ashwin scoring a half-century and debutant off-spinner Jayant Yadav a solid 35.
Kohli couldn’t have asked for a better start when Mohammed Shami steamed in to breach Alastair Cook’s defence, snapping his off-stump into two. His partner Haseeb Hameed showed resilience but the real battle was between Joe Root and Ashwin.
By the time Root faced Ashwin for the first time in the 16th over, he already looking settled on 22. Jadeja was bowling flat and fast, but Root looked more in control against him, driving and clipping him off the pads. What probably made Root guarded against Ashwin was the edge he induced which didn’t carry to slip in the 20th over.
Hameed run out
Still, with runs coming off the other bowlers, Root didn’t have to do anything drastic. But disaster struck with the horrible run-out of Hameed --- brilliantly executed by Wriddhiman Saha with a back throw ---- next over for which Root was to be blamed.
Maybe in atonement, Root upped the ante against Jadeja and picked two boundaries in two overs. But a rather unnecessary desire to impose himself on Ashwin, right after Ben Duckett’s unflattering dismissal, undid Root’s good work. Pinned back by a delivery that spun and bounced sharply, Root decided to go down the track two balls later and went through the shot despite not getting to the pitch of the ball. The result was a miscue to Umesh Yadav at long-off.
That wicket made Ashwin’s day after he took India past 400 by stitching a 64-run eighth wicket partnership with Jayant. The partnership was a godsend for India after Saha and Jadeja were trapped leg-before by Ali in the space of three deliveries.
It could have been one wicket less had Jadeja sought a referral but Saha’s failed review might have stopped. Replays showed Ali’s delivery was missing leg.
Sloppy on the field in the morning as well, England might wonder what would have been had Ben Stokes not dropped Ashwin at slip late on Thursday. Then on 17, Ashwin added 41 before Umesh and Shami swung their bats for 20 more runs. With Ashwin and Jayant — who snared Ali as his first Test wicket — now showing top form, England’s fear was evident when their spin consultant Saqlain Mushtaq came out after stumps to assess the pitch. An all-time great off-spinner, his feedback would be invaluable but it remains to be seen how the England batsmen act on it.