Chennai, February 15
Ravichandran Ashwin first gave a lesson on how to bowl on a rank turner and then provided a batting master-class with a sparkling hundred on a deteriorating strip, putting India on the brink of a massive series-levelling victory against England on the third day of the second Test here on Monday.
Ashwin’s fifth test hundred – a gutsy 106 off 148 balls – along with Virat Kohli’s near flawless 62 off 149 balls got India to a more than decent 286 in 85.5 overs, leaving England with an improbable target of 482 runs on a dust bowl.
At stumps, England were already crumbling at 53 for 3 and it would take nothing short of a miracle for England to bat for two days and save the match.
Even their resolute captain Joe Root and coach Chris Silverwood wouldn’t be optimistic on a track where exploding divots are making it extremely difficult to bat.
But difficult does not mean impossible. Just like facing a quality seam bowler on a green top is an art, one needs plenty of skills and mental fortitude to counter spinners on a dust bowl.
Skipper Kohli and Ashwin showed the likes of Michael Vaughan that they have that in abundance as India batted nearly 182 overs across two innings on a track that many be considered as under-prepared after England failed to score even 150 in their first essay.
India’s batting exhibition in the second innings was a statement for all the Doubting Thomases on how to bat on a third-day track.
It only helped that Moeen Ali (32-7-98-4) and Jack Leach (33-6-100-4) were not half as good as Ashwin and Axar Patel were on the second day.
Both Moeen and the Leach were bowling their deliveries at an identical pace unlike Ashwin who varied the speed. Also another marked difference between Ashwin’s deliveries was his pace through the air which was significantly more than Moeen’s.
If Rohit Sharma set it up with a classy day 1 hundred, Ashwin and Kohli, in the next two days, did not take their feet off the pedal to put England in the tightest of corners.
Till the ball remained hard, England got three quick wickets leaving India in a spot at 65 for 4 but Kohli again seemed in a mood to make batting look easy.
He displayed defensive elegance, coming close to the pitch of the ball to take an off-stump guard in order to negate turn. He also used the sweep shot only for deliveries that were drifting down the leg-side.
There were seven boundaries, mostly drives and in Ashwin he found an able ally. They added 96 runs in 177 balls, a partnership that deflated England completely.
Ashwin relied on shots square of the wicket and left Kohli with the job of grafting, taking it upon himself to attack the England bowling.
Apart from the square cuts and the pull shots off spinners, he was ready to hit the flat-batted shots off pacers akin to tennis forehand.
There were 14 boundaries and a six in all during his best batting effort, considering the previous four hundreds came against second-rate West Indies sides.
Ravindra Jadeja ‘ascendancy as India’s all-conditions specialist spin bowling all-rounder led to Ashwin losing a bit of confidence and the cutting edge he possessed with the willow. But everything changed after the semi-fit Chennai engineer pulled off a last day wonder in Sydney which has now helped him get his mojo back.
In the past one year, he has tremendously upgraded his variations and the confidence in ‘Ashwin the bowler’ has brought to the fore ‘Ashwin the batsman’.
The way he marshalled the tail was commendable with two partnerships – 27 with Ishant Sharma (7) and 49 with Mohammed Siraj (16) for the 10th wicket.
In both cases, he cleverly shielded the strike and finally reached 97 with a six.
A miscued shot got him his hundred and the ensuing celebrations, especially from Kohli punching his fists while giving a standing ovation, said it all.
Ashwin seemed finally back where he belonged and that’s right at the top. PTI