India vs England, 3rd Test: R Ashwin covers up middle-order's mistakes yet again
Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja shared an unbroken 67-run stand for the seventh-wicket to guide India to 271/6 at stumps.
Sometimes, all it takes to turn a match on its head is one session, a space of a few deliveries or even one sharp delivery. A combination of all three factors is perhaps what contributed to India's collapse on the second day of the third Test in Mohali, after the side got off to a decent start, before a rearguard saved the blushes for the hosts.
After bowling the visitors out for 283 — a score that appeared below-par at first glance — and getting off to a decent start with the bat, it was a brain-fade shortly after tea that triggered the crumble, one which could have impacted not just the outcome of the match, but also the series altogether.
Once again, the hosts were left entirely dependent on the batting skills of Ravichandran Ashwin and the rest of the batsman, with plenty of questions to answer for the middle-order at the end of the day's play. However, it also takes one solid stand to turn things around, and Ashwin's unbroken seventh-wicket stand with Ravindra Jadeja — usually his bowling partner — helped bring the hosts back in the reckoning.
India had one last hurrah with the ball in the morning, with Mohammed Shami sticking to a tight line and cleaning the remainder of the English tail. The visitors added 15 runs to their overnight total, which hardly helped their case. Not much to talk about in this regard, except that Shami did what was expected of him by his captain, utilising the new ball to good effect.
Murali Vijay and Parthiv Patel — the latter marked his return to Test cricket after eight long years — walked out at the start of the following innings with the aim of reviving India's faltering opening stand in the series so far, as the hosts have failed to get off to a strong start in this series barring the first innings at Rajkot. This was Vijay's third partner at the top of the order, and he would have hoped for a turnaround in fortunes with another a new partner.
Except he was the first one to depart, getting a thick edge to the 'keeper off Stokes' bowling right after getting dropped by Buttler near midwicket. Even if the umpire was not sure about the dismissal himself, Vijay earned a few 'Fair Play' points for himself (or would have done so had he been playing in the Indian Premier League) by walking off. Patel ensured the hosts returned to the pavilion on a safe score of 60/1 at lunch.
It was the second session however, that was dominated almost entirely by the Indians barring Parthiv's dismissal that prevented him from bringing up what would have been a fine return to the longest format. With Cheteshwar Pujara getting off to a decent start with a few hits to the fence at the other end, Patel began to train his focus on the milestone. Little did he expect DRS to ruin his dream, with the visitors (and Bairstow in particular) making a brilliant use of the technology to get rid of him.
The third-wicket pair of Pujara and Kohli, who are looked up to as the pillars of the current Indian batting order, came to the rescue for their side once again with a solid partnership that was worth 75 when the umpires called for tea. Despite Anderson putting up a fine spell in which he managed to swing the ball both ways, the pair remained steady at the crease. While Kohli has been the top run-getter in this series by a distance, with Pujara behind him in the list, the two had to share the responsibility of batting through a majority of the day's play in order, and not leave too much for the shaky middle-order to take up.
However, India's misery began post tea. Pujara, in a loss of concentration, miscued a Rashid delivery towards deep midwicket, where Chris Woakes held on to a fine running catch to effect his departure for 51. Ajinkya Rahane continued his horror run with the bat after getting undone by a googly that he failed to pick, and was trapped plumb lbw to extend Rashid's innings haul to three.
Karun Nair, who got his lucky break in the Test side after KL Rahul's last-minute injury, got his career off to a rollicking start with a crunching cover drive, before a mix of terrible communication on Kohli's part, as well as outstanding fielding by Buttler near backward point, resulted in Nair being sent back to the non-striker's end after running almost halfway through the pitch. The hosts suddenly collapsed to 156/5, with the game swinging in favour of Cook and Co.
However, Kohli as well as the Ashwin-Jadeja pair managed to undo most of the damage caused early on with a fine display under pressure. Kohli continued his talismanic touch with the bat by bringing up his 14th Test fifty, although he ensured that Stokes got the last laugh after the spat on Saturday by poking at a ball moving away from the batsman to nick it to 'keeper Bairstow. Stokes celebrated by covering his mouth, with India losing their sixth wicket with 204 on board.
It took a spectacular effort with the bat by Ashwin and Jadeja to swing the momentum of the game back in India's favour, with the former bringing up his ninth Test fifty despite having problems running due to cramps. Jadeja, who has not had a healthy run as a batsman so far in the series barring an unbeaten 32 at Rajkot, suddenly found his rhythm, and played perfect foil to an in-form Ashwin.
With the likes of Jayant Yadav and Mohammed Shami (who showed his hard-hitting skills with the bat in the second innings at Vizag) yet to bat, India look set to gain a decent lead on Day 3. However, the visitors have shown the ability of preying on their complacency, as was evident in the second session, and that will be the biggest lesson for Kohli and gang when they look back at their achievements from the second day's play.
The 39-year-old Anderson also wondered whether he would get to play another Test match for England at his home ground.
The arriving players included Rishabh Pant, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ajinkya Rahane, Ishant Sharma, Axar Patel, Prithvi Shaw and Umesh Yadav.
Stuart Broad also said that he would be happy to go to Australia for the Ashes despite fear of strict COVID-19 protocols.