It is not everyday that you see someone like Ravichandran Ashwin grow desperate for a wicket, and end up making an injudicious call. When that happens, you know for a fact that things are not going too well for India either, as was the case on Day 4 of the first Test against England.
When he made the Indians review a leg-before decision when the ball had pitched well outside off, and was missing the stumps by some distance despite undergoing a massive turn, it was quite clear that the frustration of not being able to take a wicket in conditions, which he is considered a master of, was slowly starting to get the better of him.
However, if the third day belonged to the the prolific duo of Murali Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara, who had set the tone for a massive total with their centuries, then Day 4 saw Ashwin shine with the bat yet again, helping increase the distance between the touring Englishmen and a 1-0 series lead.
What was initially expected to be another happy day out for the Indian batsmen, with captain Virat Kohli gracing the day with yet another special knock, instead left a bad taste in their mouths. India fell 49 runs short of England's total of 537, the first time they conceded a first innings lead in over 13 Tests at home in the last four years (having last fallen short against the same opponents in Nagpur, 2012).
With the pitch starting to deteriorate with each passing day, the likes of Ravindra Jadeja and Ashwin were expected to run through the English batting unit in order to set up a competitive target for the hosts. Instead, 19-year-old England opener Haseeb Hameed brought up his maiden half-century in the second innings of his debut Test, and also brought up a century opening stand with skipper Alastair Cook to put the visitors in a comfortable position.
While one can never rule the unexpected out from the game until the last ball has been bowled, the balance certainly seems to be tilted in favour of a draw, unless one of the sides chooses to royally mess up on the final day of the Test.
Rahane walked out to bat alongside Kohli at the start of the day's play, after stumps was taken right after nightwatchman Amit Mishra's dismissal on the third day. Given the form that the two batsmen are in at the moment, as well as their ability to wear bowlers down and attack them all over the park, a lot depended on them if the hosts were to scale 'Mount 537' and edge ahead of the visitors.
While Rahane braved short deliveries from Chris Woakes — who had earlier meted out a similar treatment to Pujara — and even pulled a couple of them towards the fence, a lapse of concentration as well as some extra bounce deceived him, resulting in him missing the line of the delivery while looking to play towards the leg side, with the ball clipping the top of his stumps.
Kohli's departure followed, and it was an event of its own. Getting tempted to go for the pull against a short delivery from Adil Rashid, the Indian skipper got too deep in his crease, and ended up disturbing the leg stump with his left heel. It was not so much of a shock as it was disappointing. It was pure carelessness on the part of an individual on whom a team as well as its billion fans were so dependent on. While he walked back with a look of shock on his face, Cook's men suddenly got a burst of energy with the thought of walking away with a major lead playing on their minds.
Kohli's hit wicket turned out to be the first instance of an Indian Test skipper falling victim to such a dismissal since Lala Amarnath during the Chennai Test against the West Indies back in 1949.
While Ashwin did have a dull day with the ball, he reminded the world why he is rated the world's best all-rounder in the format with a brave 70, one that helped narrow the deficit down to 49, and brought India within striking distance of the 500-run mark. Whether it was a set of drives on the back foot against the spinners or an clever upper cut off Stuart Broad, Ashwin displayed a presence of mind and frustrated the opposition bowlers during his nearly three-and-a-half hour stay at the crease, hitting a total of seven boundaries.
With the ball undergoing massive turn as a result of a slowly deteriorating pitch, Ashwin and Jadeja would have been licking their lips at the prospect of running through the English batting order with a fiery spell or two. Jadeja got to bowl alongside Shami at the start of England's second innings, and there would have been a few beads of sweat on Cook's forehead, as he survived some close calls. However, barring a couple of eventful overs in the initial stages of the innings, it was a one-way street all the way thereafter.
Hameed, who was the highest run-getter for Lancashire in the County Championship earlier this year, added further credence to the talk of him being the next big English Test batsman. Not only did he play fluent strokes, but he went for a big hit off Jadeja in the sixth over, something that is not usually associated with Hameed, whose family originally hails from Gujarat.
Despite the game seemingly headed towards a draw, players from both camps revealed their respective teams' intent of going for a result on the final day. "There's a lot of assistance to the spinners now. Hopefully, we can put some pressure in the morning session (and) get some wickets and you never know," Vijay, the top-scorer in India's first innings, said.
"I think all three (results) are possible. There's still a lot of cricket to be played tomorrow," Rashid said at the post-match presser.
As unlikely as it may sound, that is what fans would be hoping for at the moment, and that is what a high-profile Test series between the two of the top cricketing sides in the world deserves. Let us see how things unfold on Day 5.
First Published On : Nov 12, 2016 21:43 IST