Kolkata: A spineless India were on the verge of a second successive humiliating defeat in their own backyard against England who were within sniffing distance of an emphatic victory in the third cricket Test here today. After conceding a mammoth 207-run lead, India's famed batsmen put up a pathetic display but R Ashwin (83 batting) and the tailenders delayed the inevitable as the hosts reached 239 for nine at close on the penultimate day.
Ashwin, who flopped as a bowler, provided some resistance as the last two wickets added 80 runs after being at a precarious 159 for eight at one stage, forcing the game to stretch into the fifth day with India having a slender lead of 32.
With one full day left, England were on course for a huge win and take an unassailable 2-1 lead in the four-matchseries.
India got off to a good start with Virender Sehwag (49) and Gautam Gambhir (40) putting on 86 runs but the innings completely came apart after the lunch break with wickets falling with embarrassing ease on an Eden Gardens track, which gave some assistance to the bowlers.
While the Indian bowlers looked completely ineffective, the English bowlers exploited the conditions far better and raise hopes of their first series win on Indian soil in 28 years. After the humiliating 10-wicket defeat in Mumbai, the hosts once again seemed clueless in their own den with neither batting nor bowling clicking against an English side which was the one expected to struggle on the sub-continental dustbowls.
Steve Finn (3/37), James Anderson (2/38) and Graeme Swann were (2/70) were the wicket-takers for England. Barring Ashwin, none of the Indian batsmen showed the stomach for a fight out as they perished to poor strokes. Cheteshwar Pujara (8), Sachin Tendulkar (5), Yuvraj Singh (11), Virat Kohli (20) and skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni (0) were the big guns who failed to fire on a track in which England posted 523 in the first innings.
Ashwin struck back to back boundaries to Swann to notch up his third half-century that also helped India avoid the humiliation of an innings loss at the Eden Gardens, which registered the highest attendance today. Lacklustre with his off-spin, Ashwin delighted the crowd with a straight drive of Anderson, following it up with a pull of Steven Finn as India ensured England had to bat again.
Ashwin's shared a 38-run ninth wicket partnership with Ishant Sharma (10) to avoid an innings victory and later he stitched an undefeated 42 runs with Pragyan Ojha (3 batting).
The English turnaround came in the post-lunch session as India lost six wickets for 36 runs as their fight to save the match went up in smoke. Earlier, the first session belonged to India who dominated the proceedings -- both with the ball and bat -- for the first time in the match. First, India scalped four wickets in 4.3 overs to restrict England's first innings lead to 207 as they managed to add 14 runs to their overnight total.
Then, Indian openers Sehwag and Gambhir showed a lot of positivity when they came out to bat in the second innings as they raced to 86 for no loss at lunch but only to go down the drain after the break.
India committed a harakiri of sorts after they resumed after lunch. India's promising start to their second innings, having conceded a 207-run lead, was undone when Sehwag got out in the first ball after lunch. Swann got one to rip back through Sehwag's gate taking the top of the off stump to break the opening partnership for 86.
But without building on a partnership what followed was another dismissal as Gambhir once again helping England in another run-out. Poor Pujara (8) became the victim this time when the leading Indian run-getter of the series fall short of the crease going in for a non-exiting run as Bell hit the stumps directly from short leg.
Finn should be credited for creating pressure around Gambhir who conceded two maiden overs to the pacer. In the third over, after playing out five dot balls, Gambhir desperately attempted for a single with a soft push to leg side to avoid a third straight maiden. But it only brought an end of Pujara's knock, who has 402 runs in the series including one double and single century. In the very first of the next over, the Indian opener, on 36, survived after umpire Rod Tucker gave him not out after his faint nick was brilliantly taken by Jonathan Trott in a low catch.
Gambhir could not prolong his stint at the crease, edging one behind the stumps. It was two wickets in as many overs as India were reduced to 107 for four with Sachin Tendulkar back in the dressing room after a promising paddle sweep of Swann. The off-spinner took Tendulkar's outside edge to be caught at the slip by Trott as India started to stare at yet another big defeat.
Kohli, on four, got a second life after being dropped by Bell at deepish short leg as at the drinks break India were tottering for 119 for four, still requiring 88 runs to avoid an innings defeat with more than four sessions to go.
But England continued to spit venom as Anderson castled Yuvraj Singh with a delivery that went low, shattered the stumps by taking the bottom edge of the left-hander's bat. Anderson came back to strike again this time to remove India skipper Dhoni for a duck.
Earlier, India started the day with some promise, when they bowled England out for 523. Ojha, who was the most successful Indian bowler with 4/124, struck in his very second ball of the day when Swann (21) edged one at first slip to be dimissed without any addition to the total. Zaheer also got into the act, picking up his first wicket of the match after bowling 30 overs when the left-arm pacer's in-cutter took Matt Prior's nick before being caught by Dhoni.
The second blow for England with addition of just one-run to the overnight total of 509 opened the gates for India as Ashwin took two wickets -- Anderson (9) and Paneswar (0) succession to wipe out the tail, but not before they conceded a huge lead.
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