Just for a moment on Day 4 of the second Test between India and England in Vizag, it seemed that the visitors might pull off something special. Alastair Cook and young Haseeb Hameed's dogged batting display provided some hope to the England fans. Just for a moment it seemed that the visitors might go on to save the Test after being on the back foot for the first three days of the match. Just for a moment it seemed that Cook and Hameed's defences could be impregnable, something which Rahul Dravid would have been proud of. Seventy five runs from 50 overs could have bored any opposition bowler to death. The only way England's resistance could have been broken, it seemed, was if any of the batsmen received a grubber. Unluckily for the visitors, Hameed did and that provided India an opening.
Yes, the pitch played a huge part as the ball kept really low and there was nothing Hameed, or for the matter, any other batsman could have done. But it was the unerring accuracy of Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja that needed to be credited too.
At times, it would have been easy to veer off the path with frustration, especially bowling to two defensively sound batsmen on a blockathon trip. Thirty of the 50 overs on Day 4 were bowled by Ashwin and Jadeja before Hameed's wicket, 11 of them being maidens, and the two bowlers gave away just 42 runs. They were there or thereabouts, testing the patience of the batsmen.
Their persistence reaped rich rewards and provided what would turn out to be the turning point of the game when Jadeja trapped Cook LBW in the last over of the penultimate day. It was a big moment in the match but there was still plenty of work to be done. Joe Root was still at the crease, with Moeen Ali, Ben Stokes, Jonny Bairstow - all of whom have impressed against spin - still to bat, and the last thing India could have afforded was complacency. Cheteshwar Pujara had a fair idea of that.
"Things wouldn't come easy for us also. We know that they are capable of batting well, so we would't take things for granted. Tomorrow we will definitely have to come hard at them. But we are prepared for it," Pujara said after the end of Day 4.
It's not easy churning out overs after overs in sultry conditions with unerring accuracy. The workload can wear you out, physically as well as mentally. Fingers get sore by the end of the day, plus fielding also comes into the picture. Jadeja had already spent 43 minutes in the middle batting and then he ended the day with 14 consecutive overs. By the end of the day, his figures read - 22.2-8-25-1. Ashwin's read 16-5-28-1.
India required the two spinners to bowl with same verve and energy on Day 5. The pitch had uneven bounce and was assisting turn but it wasn't a minefield where the batsmen would just fall like ninepins. It required dogged determination from the bowlers and the hosts were up to it.
After the match, Ashwin described how it wasn't a walkover as many would have predicted and that there was a lot of thinking that went behind the win. "It was a tricky pitch to bowl on. Playing spin was not difficult, something I realised while batting. I kept my pace down a lot and then increased it to beat the outside edge, and kept the batsmen in the uncomfortable zone," Ashwin said.
On the final day, Ashwin and Jadeja set out to choke the visitors. And they were relentless in their approach. Ashwin tried to utilise the uneven bounce while Jadeja pounced on the rough outside off. Six overs into the day, Ashwin won another mental battle against Ben Duckett who has looked clueless against spin on this tour.
Jadeja mixed his lines - bowling stump-to-stump and into the rough outside off. He was accurate. He was frustrating, as always for the batsmen. He was quick and he was mixing up his pace well. That he would have Moeen Ali's number was a forgone conclusion with the latter looking clueless against the Saurashtra all-rounder.
Jadeja and Ashwin rushed through their overs, not allowing the batsmen to settle down or even have a breather or provide the time for the batsman to think about the previous ball on which he was beaten. The Ashwin-Jadeja duo bowled 23.4 overs in tandem, at a stretch, in just 68 minutes, which was just about under three minutes an over. They were relentless and built sustained pressure.
"I think that the way we bowled yesterday (on Day 4) was magnificent. Not giving away more than 1.4 per over, we thought they would come out with more intent, to be very honest. And to see the approach that they had, obviously, gave us assurance that once we get a couple of wickets, it will crumble pretty quickly because there wasn't much intent from the batsmen," Kohli said in the post-match conference.
The plan was simple - to play the patience game and then go for the kill.
"It was a test of our patience. We knew that they are going to try and annoy us by playing like this and hope that we lose our cool, bowl with different plans and do too many things, which we did not," Kohli said after the match. "We maintained a similar field throughout. It's just that in the last over (on Day 4), the suggestion came from Pujara that we could try probably a different field, have two more on the legside and make him (Cook) really defend well in the last six balls. Put a bit of doubt in his head, and it worked. He tried to play in front of his pad, not close to the body. That's it, I mean little margins can give you the game," he added.
Then there was a sudden change as Kohli took the second new ball a made a couple of bowling alterations. Jayant Yadav and Mohammed Shami were brought into the attack. The two capitalised on the pressure that had been built up as Jayant sent back Stokes and Shami scalped Root to inflict killer blows in the space of two overs. Rigid discipline slowly transformed into ruthless efficiency as the bowlers kept chipping away during the next ten overs to register the hosts' second-biggest win over England.
India have done this in their backyard over and over again. They hardly give the opposition a sniff. However, in the last match in Rajkot, they had veered away slightly from their habit. After a long time, they had played the catching up game and that too throughout the Test. They experienced a scare too in the final innings. They were outclassed by the visitors in almost every department and drew their first match in 13 completed Tests at home.
The second match was a test of Team India's character and ability to bounce back especially having developed a winning habit. And they did respond in style. Kohli won the all-important toss. India managed to post a decent first innings total on the board. Ashwin scalped a five-for and India gained a sizeable lead.
There was a slight stutter in the second innings but Kohli's brilliance pushed an England win out of the equation and then the spinners feasted on a crumbling (not unplayable) Day 5 pitch. The pacers chipped in with wickets at regular intervals. Jayant had a brilliant debut with 62 runs, four wickets and a superb run out. They were relentless and then they were ruthless. They were up for the fight and they were enjoying every moment of it.
India registered their 13th win in the last 16 matches (all unbeaten) at home. At Vizag, normalcy was restored and this is an ominous sign for England in the series.