India are heading towards a massive victory over England in Vizag in the second Test. England's day started with Jonny Bairstow tripping over his feet and twisting his ankle. It only marginally improved from there as India closed the day 298 runs in front, on a pitch that is showing regular uneven bounce, with seven second wickets intact and two days to go.
As England were bowled out for 255 to concede a first innings lead of 200, it left them hoping that defeat would be by only a large margin rather than a humiliating one. It could have been far worse if it wasn't for Bairstow and Ben Stokes. The pair put on their third century stand of 2016 and became the most productive partnership in Test cricket this year. They have batted together seven times this year and have made 772 runs in partnership. This was the ninth time in 11 innings that the sixth wicket has given England more than 50 runs. That could have resulted in many a victory if the top order had been less fragile.
Not only have Stokes and Bairstow made those three century partnerships together, two of them have come when England have been five wickets down for less than 100. On Friday, they came together with England at 80 for five and when Bairstow was dismissed on Saturday morning they had taken the score to 190.
For all the chaos that was expected to be wrought by the India spinners it was one of the quicks that got the vital breakthrough that broke that stand. Umesh Yadav bowled a brilliant yorker that was quick and drifted in slightly with reverse swing to crash into Bairstow's leg stump. As well as Bairstow and Stokes played, England needed a lot more than 110 runs from their last recognised batsmen to stay in contention.
With Bairstow batting so brilliantly at seven, there will always be calls for him to move up the order, but him coming in at five wickets down gives England a tactical boost in two regards. The first is if they find themselves in this very situation, with the top order gone and a recovery job is needed. Bairstow has shown that the added pressure of batting with the tail doesn't bother him at all and that he can bail England out.
The second is when England are on top and he walks to the crease with runs on the board. With half the team back in the dressing room the opposition could feel they have half the job done. When you have someone with the class of Bairstow coming in at the fall of the fifth wicket, and then taking the game away from the opposition, you can see heads starting to drop. He needs to stay where he is.
From there on it was a return to the Ravichandran Ashwin show as he claimed his 22nd five wicket haul in Test cricket. Ashwin now has 228 Test wickets and he has those in just 41 Tests. His average of 24.74 with the ball is the best by any Indian with more than 100 Test wickets. The great thing for India, and the terrifying thing for other teams, is that he is still improving. His willingness to tinker with his action is entirely to his credit. Throw in his ability with the bat and in these conditions he is pound-for-pound the best cricketer in the world right now.
Stokes top scored with 70 and did a fine job at adapting his game to this pitch, balancing between defence and attack with aplomb in his 157-ball stay at the crease. When he departed it was one of those dismissals that will generate debate while still definitely being out. Ashwin struck Stokes on the pad and the latter was given LBW. The batsman reviewed and there was some debate about whether he had got an inside edge, but the ball was caught at silly point, so that wouldn't have saved him. In the end, there was no conclusive evidence of him hitting the ball and the ball tracking showed that it was hitting the stumps. Stokes was gone - and while the scorecard shows LBW - exactly how is still up for debate.
When the last England wicket fell, to Ashwin of course, they were all out for 255 - exactly 200 runs behind. India could have enforced the follow on, but having been in the field for more than 100 overs and with more than 200 overs left in the match it made sense not to. Also, England will not relish having to bat last for more than a whole day to save this match.
When England were bowling they once against removed both Indian openers early, just as they had in the first innings. Stuart Broad is struggling with a foot injury, but he managed to dismiss both Murali Vijay and KL Rahul. Both decisions were given not out on the field and then overturned, Vijay for a bat-pad catch and Rahul for caught behind.
There is a clear difference between the way these two teams use the referral system, and this is understandable considering their relative experience. England have been using DRS in its entirety for six years; this is the first time the BCCI have agreed for the full system to be used in a bilateral series since it was officially adopted by the ICC. While England have a clear process that they go through before reviewing - close in fielders, bowler and captain discuss whether to review and err on the side of caution - with India it seems more haphazard with Virat Kohli regularly making a unilateral decision.
It was telling that 19-year-old Haseeb Hameed, playing in just his second match, was involved in the discussion that resulted in the Rahul dismissal. He was fielding at forward short leg and well placed to add to the decision making process. There seems to be a reluctance from the newer members of the Indian side to get involved with similar discussions.
England claimed a third wicket before the close, James Anderson bowling Cheteshwar Pujara with an absolute peach of a delivery that reduced India to 40 for three, but a partnership between Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane took them to 98 for three at the close. They could already have enough runs to win, but will be back on Sunday to add more.
First Published On : Nov 19, 2016 18:43 IST