India vs England, 3rd Test: All-round effort by hosts' lower-order spells doom for Alastair Cook and Co
England were reeling at a score of 78/4, after India finished on a score of 417 on Day 3 of the 3rd Test at Mohali on Monday.
Barring a lost toss and a brief collapse in the post-tea session on the second day, it has been India's Test so far in the third match against England at Mohali, which is further established by the position that they found themselves at stumps on Day 3.
While the Indian lower-order produced another inspirational rearguard to pull the hosts out of the trench that they found themselves in at one point, few would have imagined them crossing the 400-run mark after being reduced to 204/6. Taking four early English wickets while giving away 78 runs thereafter was another giant step forward on the path to victory.
The third day's play saw the Indian lower-order fire as a unit — for the first time three batsman batting at No 7 and below in the Indian side produced fifties — as India stretched their lead to 134. Not only was the 400-run mark a massive confidence booster for their bowling unit, but a lead in excess of 100 on a pitch that has already started to deteriorate spells tough times in the remainder of the Test for the Englishmen.
Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravidnra Jadeja resumed the innings from India's overnight score of 271/6, with the former smacking a boundary towards the leg side in the first ball of the day. Visiting skipper Alastair Cook deployed Moeen Ali at the other end in order to counter the left-handed Jadeja, although that hardly seemed to stifle the Saurashtra cricketer.
Ashwin, who batted with grit and responsibility to lead India's fightback, was well on his way to bringing up his first Test century against a team other than West Indies when he was caught by Jos Buttler at point off Ben Stokes' bowling, looking to go for another of his expansive drives.
The quality of his innings however, have prompted pundits and fans alike to call for his promotion up the batting order, where his skills would be better utilised. However, this prompts a counter-question,should that move actually take shape — who will anchor the lower-order like he has done effectively so far?
Jadeja and new batsman Jayant Yadav ensured the hosts did not suffer any further casualties till tea, with the former giving fans the moment of the day when he brought up third half-century and broke into his 'Rajput' celebrations — wielding his bat like a sword as he did after scoring his previous fifties.
One can only imagine what his celebration would have been like had he got to his maiden Test hundred. Jadeja looked all set to get to that milestone after hammering four boundaries inside a Chris Woakes over to move to 90, but then miscued an Adil Rashid delivery towards long-on in a rush of blood.
The damage to the Englishmen however, had been long done by then, although the Indians would have wanted to stretch their lead as much as they could in order to reduce the possible target, as well as the prospect of having to bat on a Day 5 pitch.
That was taken care by the third hero from the Indian innings, Jayant. The rookie, having only made his debut in the previous game at Visakhapatnam, produced a fine knock while tackling the spinners and pacers alike, exuding veteran-like maturity during his time at the crease. In the three innings that he has played in so far, he already has an average of 58.5 and has been an effective foil to the 'spin twins'.
"Definitely the confidence has grown with the wickets and the runs. If I bat well, I can feel it in my bowling. The best thing about this team is it didn't make me feel I was playing for the first time," Jayant said after the day's play.
Following a mighty six off Umesh Yadav's bat, the Indians finished at 417 at tea, the interval of which was taken 20 minutes earlier than usual. The Indians weren't without their share of luck, with Ben Stokes missing out on two dismissal chances, thanks to sloppy fielding.
Skipper Virat Kohli decided to deploy Ashwin and Jadeja in tandem early in the innings, having observed that the pitch was starting to crumble and helped the English spinners earlier in the day. The only challenge was the prospect of bowling to England's most reliable batting pair in Cook and Joe Root early in the innings, with the latter walking out after injured opener Haseeb Hameed wasn't cleared to bat.
The spin duo put Cook under immense pressure early in his innings, and hardly let him settle at the crease. It started with an lbw appeal by Jadeja, one that the Indians reviewed after it was turned down, before Hawk-eye revealed the ball to be missing the leg-stump. Ashwin thought he had Cook successfully dismissed in a similar manner in the following over, though this time the England captain opted to use the technology to save his innings. In the end, Ashwin managed to settle the issue by breaking through Cook's defence, and shattering his stumps.
As the Indians broken into celebrations after the early breakthrough, Cook walked back to the pavilion having extended what has been an average touch with the bat barring a century at Rajkot, which was not without its share of dropped chances. Heading into this series, one of India's key objectives would have been to contain the English skipper, and they seemed to done a fairly decent job of it so far.
The Indians only made further inroads to unsettle the opposition's top-order thereafter. Ashwin built pressure up on Moeen by closing the field around him, and deceived him with a flighted delivery that prompted a tame chip towards mid-on while looking to clear the straight boundary. Both him and Jayant then got rid of the dangerous pair of Jonny Bairstow and Stokes to leave the tourists reeling by the time umpire Chris Gaffaney flicked the bails at the non-striker's end.
Putting on the 'Predictor's Hat' (or whatever Star Sports decided to name it during the New Zealand series), one doesn't see this game lasting beyond the fourth day, given the way the pitch is starting to behave at the moment. Should they manage to get rid of Root early on Tuesday, there will be little stopping the trio of Ashwin, Jadeja and Jayant from inflicting further misery on the visitors with the ball after having done their share with the bat.
England trail 2-1 after their 157-run defeat at the Oval ahead of Friday's decider at Old Trafford but head coach Chris Silverwood has made only minor alterations to his squad.
There have been less than nine overs since Lunch, but in that time all but one outcome has been firmly swept from the table, England’s middle order has been ritually sacrificed, four wickets lost and a Test match won.
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