Chennai, February 15
Ravichandran Ashwin, who had given a lesson on how to bowl on a rank turner yesterday, today put up a batting masterclass on a deteriorating wicket, taking India to the brink of a series-levelling victory against England on Day 3 of the second Test.
Ashwin’s fifth Test hundred, a gutsy 106 off 148 balls, and Virat Kohli’s near-flawless 62 off 149 balls got India to 286 in 85.5 overs from 106/6 at one stage.
England, set an improbable target of 482, were 53/3 at stumps. Even Joe Root, unbeaten on 2, won’t be too optimistic about surviving on two more days on this rough wicket, let alone scoring another 429 runs to win.
Skipper Kohli and Ashwin showed that one could survive and score runs on this wicket, provided one has the skills to tackle the conditions. Across two innings, India batted for nearly 182 overs and scored a total of 615 runs, while England failed to touch even 140 in their only innings.
Ashwin got a five-wicket haul and scored a hundred in a Test match for the third time in his career, and only England legend Ian Botham is ahead of him on this count, with five such efforts. Ashwin could achieve the more unique double of 10 wickets and a 100 in a Test if he snares four more victims tomorrow.
Apart from India’s batting, it was clear 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. Ali and Leach bowled at a uniform pace, unlike Ashwin, who varied his speed and angles.
Today, when the ball was hard, England got three quick wickets, leaving India in a tight spot at 65/4. However, Kohli again made batting look easy.
He displayed defensive acumen, coming close to the pitch of the ball to take an off-stump guard in order to negate the turn. He also used the sweep shot only for deliveries that were drifting down the leg-side. He hit 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 bowling. Apart from the square cuts and the pull shots off the spinners, Ashwin was ready to hit flat-batted shots off pacers. There were 14 boundaries and a six in his innings.
The way he marshalled the tail was commendable. He had a ninth-wicket partnership of 27 with Ishant Sharma (7) and of 49 for the last wicket with Mohammed Siraj (16). When last man Siraj walked in, Ashwin was on 77. Siraj managed to safeguard his wicket, and Ashwin upped the scoring rate to reach his 100, and Siraj clouted two sixers of his own. — TNS, agencies
Ravindra Jadeja’ rise 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 Ashwin pulled off a last-day wonder in Sydney, earning India a draw by batting through back pain, and that gave him his batting mojo back. In the past one year, he has upgraded his bowling variations and the confidence he has got as a bowler seems to have rubbed on to Ashwin the batsman. His fifth 100 is probably his best, because the earlier four were scored against West Indies, one of the lowly-regarded teams in world cricket.
I don’t know whether I will play my next Test here, and I don’t know when the next Test is here, but I’m very pleased — Ravichandran Ashwin