It took only a 15-minute lapse in concentration across four overs for India to almost hand over the advantage to England on Day 2 of the third Test on Sunday.
In the end, it took a mighty effort from Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja to see India through to stumps. An unfinished seventh-wicket partnership of 67 saw India reach within striking distance of England’s first innings score of 283.
Ashwin is relishing his role as No 6 and again took over the responsibility batting one slot lower, scoring a crucial 57 not out and with Jadeja (31*) guiding India towards a lead, which will be crucial as the hosts will be batting last on a pitch that has not posed much trouble for batsmen so far.
India did well to polish off the England tail in the morning and despite Murali Vijay’s cheap dismissal, Parthiv Patel’s breezy 42 seemed to have set it up as they were cruising at 148 after tea.
That was when England struck. It all started with Cheteshwar Pujara going for an uncharacteristic heave off a loose ball from leg-spinner Adil Rashid soon after reaching fifty. Till then it looked like a flourishing partnership with skipper Virat Kohli that would take India to a big total.
Pujara, who has been criticised for his modest strike rate post the West Indies tour had till then accumulated his runs in ones and twos with the occasional boundary. But he only managed to find Chris Woakes, who plucked the chance inches above the ground in deep midwicket. “I am disappointed the way I got out. I probably should have hit that ball for four. I didn’t time it well,” Pujara said.
From 148 for 3, India were soon reduced to 156 for 5. Ajinkya Rahane’s struggle against England continued. Having failed to get a fifty in the previous four innings, he fell for a six-ball duck, failing to read a googly from Rashid to be trapped in front. The twin strikes came in the space of three overs.
England had their tails up and extracted another scalp. This time,
Skipper Virat Kohli’s hesitation on 40 to steal a quick single saw debutant Karun Nair stranded after being sent back from mid-pitch. Joe Root at point produced a direct hit, reducing India to 156 for 5.
With the pitch turning, but within the margins expected on a second day wicket, and balls keeping low, it would be ideal if the hosts are able to bat big in the first innings. A lead of 150-200 would have made all the difference.
However, it all came down to R Ashwin and Kohli to start the repair work. A quick single through midwicket brought up Kohli’s half-century but India needed more from him. It’s here that England’s persistence paid off as they got their biggest breakthrough of the day when Kohli, who showed remarkable patience when he came in as England tried to tempt him outside off-stump, nicked a Ben Stokes delivery outside off to ‘keeper Jonny Bairstow.
“I think we recovered well and we have an advantage. Both our all-rounders Ashwin and Jadeja are batting and the first session will be crucial for us. Our game plan will be simple — to get a lead of 75-100 runs. Jayant Yadav can also bat. Our lower order has been contributing with the bat and that’s what we expect them to do tomorrow as well,” Pujara said.