England started Day 2 of the Mohali Test in real trouble, and the situation had not improved by tea with India looking like making serene progress towards a big first innings lead. Then a 13-over spell at the start of the evening session brought England back into this match as India went from 148 for two to 204 for six. India are going to take a first innings lead, but England have come back superbly after their horror show on Saturday.
There was only 15 runs added to the overnight score before the final two English wickets fell, which saw them bowled out for 283. The damage was done on Day 1 when some really poor batting had gutted England's top order. It was far too much to expect that numbers nine, ten and eleven in the order could rescue things.
But there was some hope for England if you looked really closely and squinted your eyes. Mohammad Shami was getting the ball to reverse and seam. The delivery that dismissed Adil Rashid was the kind of ball that you see at Trent Bridge in April. It pitched on middle and seamed away just enough to take his outside edge. If Rashid was a worse tailend bat he would have missed it.
That there was something in this pitch for the quick bowlers would have excited England. As much as they only went into this game with two frontline seamers they have a third in Ben Stokes, a man who has proven adept at getting the ball to go the other way when conditions suit him. But those faint hopes of England succeeding began to fade fast as the Indian top order set about building a platform for a really impressive first innings total.
Parthiv Patel batted well on his return to the Test side after an eight year hiatus before he was given out off Rashid on review. But it was the batting of Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli that caused England the most trouble. They put on the highest partnership in the match to date, and while England did little wrong with the ball, both men made the pitch look very placid. The stand of 75 looked to be taking the game even further away from England with half centuries for both Pujara and Kohli.
At tea, India were 148 for two, only 135 runs behind England's meagre first innings total of 283, and they had their two in-form batsmen well set and eight more wickets in hand. The evening session was perfectly set up for Kohli and Pujara to milk the tired England bowlers.
Then the whole match changed with a bad ball from Rashid. It was a rank long hop, the kind of delivery that the Yorkshire leg-spinner has been working hard to eradicate from his game. Pujara was the man on strike, and despite his reputation as a bit of a plodder, he wasn't going to let the chance of some easy runs pass him by. He rocked on to the back foot and tried to pull the ball for six. He didn't time it was well as he should have and Chris Woakes ran in from the boundary to take a fine catch.
Cricket, especially Test cricket, can have moments where everything seems to change. And this was one of those. Ajinkya Rahane struggled to get set and eventually misjudged a wrong'un from Rashid completely to be dismissed LBW. It was suddenly 152 for four.
It was five down in the next over. Karun Nair walked to the crease batting at six on Test debut and got his first runs with a fine cover drive that raced away for four. Two balls later, Kohli hit the ball to backward point and called Nair for a single. Jos Buttler, a man who had not been an outfielder in first class cricket for three years, dived on the ball and threw down the stumps at the non-strikers end to leave Nair short of his ground. Kohli ran on the shot and left the debutant high and dry.
That piece of fielding brilliance would have been a real boost for Buttler, because he had dropped a tough chance from Murali Vijay earlier in the day. It did not cost England much in terms of runs, but Buttler would have been pleased to make such a meaningful contribution after his earlier mistake.
On Day 1, when Stokes was dismissed, there was an exchange of words between him and Kohli. The incident seemed so innocuous that it was hardly commented on at the time. Overnight, Stokes was censured for his actions and given a "demerit point" by the ICC officials. Kohli was also told to behave himself but was given no official sanction. The odd thing about this wasn't that two players had a little squabble, it was that this was deemed bad enough for punishment. For all the guff that the ICC puts out on its Twitter account about "The Spirit of Cricket" what we saw between Stokes and Kohli is so commonplace that we hardly notice.
So it was with all this bubbling away in the background that Stokes ran in to bowl to Kohli in the 65th over of the Indian innings. Stokes got the ball to move away from Kohli and he followed it and edged through to Bairstow.
Stokes turned his back on India's captain and covered his mouth with his hand. We will have to see if this results in another demerit point.
India had lost six wickets for 56 runs in that crazy hour after tea, but a fifty from the ever dependable Ravichandran Ashwin and some decent support from Ravindra Jadeja guided them to 271 for six at the close. Ashwin's runs were massively important yet again, he is head and shoulders above any all-rounder in world cricket when playing in these conditions. As exciting as Stokes can be, Ashwin's consistency is a massive boost for India.
Quite why these two teams have produced these batting displays on a pitch that is as good as any that have been on show this series isn't clear, but after two days, this match is brilliantly poised to be a fascinating contest. Few would have expected that when the play began on Sunday.
Firstpost is now on WhatsApp. For the latest analysis, commentary and news updates, sign up for our WhatsApp services. Just go to Firstpost.com/Whatsapp and hit the Subscribe button.
Updated Date: Nov 27, 2016 17:40:25 IST