Barring KL Rahul and Murali Vijay's early dismissals on Thursday, the second Test between India and England at Visakhapatnam has gone the hosts' way so far, with the second day ending with Virat Kohli and Co in firm command.
While yet another rearguard from the Indian lower middle-order propelled them to a score of 455, it was the bowling unit that fired collectively to take firm control of the proceedings by Day 2 stumps. With the visitors reeling at of 103/5, India now stare at the prospect of gaining the series lead, unless they choose to throw caution to the wind.
The biggest takeaway for India from the day's play was the return of Ashwin to his lethal best with the ball that was missing at Rajkot. The wily offie got the ball to drift and turn sharply, aside from working his way through with some clever variations.
Ashwin managed to peg the visitors back with two quick wickets and was later joined in the act by debutant Jayant Yadav, who not only got his maiden Test wicket by trapping Moeen Ali, but nearly got Ben Stokes bowled after hitting one of the bails of his stumps. Ravindra Jadeja did not get any wickets in the day, but kept the pressure levels up with some tight bowling and loud appeals.
It was an all-round day for the Tamil Nadu cricketer, as he contributed with the bat as well, taking charge of the innings after the departure of skipper Virat Kohli for 167. Producing the flurry of strokes that can be compared to those of top-order batsmen, Ashwin the batsman continued to dazzle as he got to his eighth half-century, extending what has been a glorious year for him as an all-rounder (his average for the current year stands at over 46.)
The day began with the hosts resuming their overnight score of 317 for four, with fans expecting captain Kohli to bring up his third Test double-hundred while continuing to flay the opposition bowlers. Ashwin enjoyed some luck early in his innings, edging an Ali delivery to Stokes in the slips before the ball popped out of the latter's hands. While Stokes looked ashen-faced after the dropped the chance, he made up for it by getting the big fish in Kohli, who attempted a drive in the very next delivery and got caught in the slips as a result.
The hosts faced a mini-collapse in the next few overs, as stumper Wriddhiman Saha and all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja returned to the pavilion in quick fashion to increase the burden on the in-form Ashwin's shoulders. The dismissals also brought to fore India's poor use of the newly-implemented Decision Review System (DRS). Saha wasted a review after getting adjudged LBW off Moeen's bowling, with the ball both getting the impact in-line and going on to crash into the stumps between middle and leg.
Jadeja, on the other hand, failed to get going yet again after being adjudged out a couple of deliveries later to the same bowler. As he walked back to the hut without going for the review (after a bit of a discussion with Ashwin,) replays revealed a gap between the ball and Jadeja's leg-stump.
Ashwin, however, continued to battle from one end and got vital support from debutant Jayant, who himself impressed with a 35-run knock that contained three boundaries. Both Umesh Yadav and Mohammed Shami went for the slogs in order to get some quick runs on the board, before the imminent end, and did manage to connect on quite a few occasions.
It was the English innings however, that gave some of the most memorable moments on Day 2. Whether it was the sight of Shami breaking Cook's off-stump into two, or Saha pulling off an MS Dhoni — moving forward to collect the throw at the striker's end, and executing a precision backhand throw that broke the stumps before Haseeb Hameed could make it back to the crease after a mix-up.
Having struck his 30th Test ton in the previous Test, Cook was expected to anchor the English innings yet again. Shami however, set him up beautifully with a couple of delivery that harmlessly moved away from the batsman, before firing one that nipped back into the batsman to beat through his defence. Joe Root played a defiant innings thereafter, going for the strokes fearlessly to bring up his 24th half-century in his 50th Test appearance. It took a classic brain-fade off Ashwin's bowling — top-edging and getting caught by Umesh near long-off while going for a heave — that threw the visitors out of gear.
As discussed at the end of the first day, the hosts have done everything right so far and each department has clicked for the match to get setup nicely for them. With the pitch set to deteriorate from Day 3 onwards, and Ashwin appearing to have regained his mojo with the ball, there seems to be little stopping Kohli and Co from trampling their opposition to gain the series lead.