By all indications, the fourth Test is going to be effectively settled by the first innings. Already, the Wankhede stadium pitch is challenging the skills of the batsmen. Given how much assistance R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja got from the pitch on the second morning of the fourth Test, runs in the second innings will be at a premium.
It’s bad news for England, unless they can come up with a plan to stop the Indian batsmen early on Saturday. (SCORECARD)
Two days into the game, India has continued to look the better all-round team as Murali Vijay (70 batting) and Cheteshwar Pujara (47 batting) built on the good work of spin duo Ashwin (six wickets) and Jadeja (four wickets) to help the home team reach 146/1 at stumps.
England, having scored 400 in their first innings, still have 254 runs in the bank but their chances will depend on spinners Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid’s ability to find the best way to exploit the surface. (DAY 2 HIGHLIGHTS)
So far, they have not displayed the skill and temperament needed to test Indian batsmen. The England spin pair was expected to derive confidence from the performance of Ashwin, who picked his 23rd fifer in just his 43rd Test. But, after 52 overs in India’s innings, Moeen has 1/44 from 15 overs and Rashid 0/49 from 13.
NUMBER WITH ENGLAND
Just posting a total of 400 will give England confidence, though. At Wankhede, it’s their lucky number. In 2006, they got exactly the same score in the first innings, and won. In 2012, they finished on 413, and again won comfortably. The last time England lost a Test after scoring 400 in the first innings was way back in 2006, against Australia at Adelaide.
To reach their favourite figure though, England had Jos Buttler to thank for. His fighting 76 off 137 balls coming in at No 7 and a dogged 31 from Jake Ball lifted the visitors from 249 for 5.
One of the strengths of this India team has been the bowling partnership between Ashwin and Jadeja. When in full flow, they can be a nightmare. On Friday morning, skipper Virat Kohli threw them both together at the England lower order. Ashwin was a master at work and it seemed to lift Jadeja to perform better. The off-spinner bowled 11 overs at a stretch (11-1-27-1) and Jadeja 13 (13-1-25-2) to hasten England’s end. They returned for their second spells to pick one more each and share all 10 wickets to fall, with Ashwin finishing with 6/112.
VIJAY, PUJARA SOLID
In reply, Vijay and Pujara showed great application, building a strong foundation with an unfinished 107-run partnership. However, it was not as easy as they made it look. The two started their partnership at snail’s pace. Pujara took 46 balls before hitting his first boundary and there was a period of play when fours dried up from both ends. After 16.2 overs, the homes fans had to wait till the 30th over to cheer their first boundary.
Vijay and Pujara’s gameplan was to deter Rashid and Ali from giving the ball air, as they looked to extract bounce from the surface. When the spinners looked to flight, the opener hit them over the top, smashing two glorious sixes. Pujara used the time-tested option of dancing down the track and working the ball away. His on-driving off Moeen was a treat to watch.
The total may look daunting for India but Kohli’s men are building a reputation of defying the odds.