India vs England: Virat Kohli, R Ashwin show batting at Chepauk wasn't impossible after all
Kohli and Ashwin laid the pitch-talk to rest through their brilliant batting on Day 3 of the 2nd India vs England Test in Chennai.
England, Day 2: 134 in 59.5 overs. Ravichandran Ashwin, Day 3: 106 in 24.4 overs.
England’s first five wickets, Day 2: 52 in 23.2 overs. India’s last two wickets, Day 3: 76 runs in 17.5 overs.
Let’s let that pitch talk take a rest, shall we?
“It is about being patient, just like when you play on a seaming wicket. You need to tide through the early phase and start putting runs on the board.”
That was Ravichandran’s Ashwin take, after his five-for saw England topple over for 134 on the second day of this third Test, on how to go about batting in conditions presenting the type of challenge this Chepauk pitch posed.
Of course, it’s always easier said than done. So he got down to walking the talk, arriving in the middle with India on 106/6 in the third morning.
Not bogged down by any perceptions of the pitch, Ashwin did what’s taught in the most early lessons of the game: play each ball on merit. He knew the English spinners were more prone to making errors than he does with the ball in hand – over the course of the first innings, England’s spinners had bowled 14 full-tosses, compared to India’s zero.
And when the teams took lunch, Ashwin was cruising along – flying, perhaps – at 34 off 38 balls, having been in control of 76 percent of the deliveries he had faced, and having done 68 percent of the scoring in 50-run association with his skipper.
It wasn’t just the result of hand-me-downs from Jack Leach and Moeen Ali; there was behind-the-doors graft behind the on-field gumption.
“The last time I was sweeping was when I was 19 years old and was dropped from the first XI after I got out,” Ashwin would tell the broadcasters at the end of the day’s play.
For a shot he hadn’t used much in 15 years, he sure pulled out all the chops in getting down to it, literally as well as figuratively. As per ball-by-ball commentary, Ashwin attempted 17 sweeps (conventional or reverse) on Monday – scoring 32 runs, plus an additional four that was adjudged as leg-byes.
Like with all great feats in sport, the foundations for @ashwinravi99’s 5th ton were laid away from the spotlight in lengthy nets sessions in Australia, from Drummoyne Oval to the SCG where he worked tirelessly, at times with just a lone throwdown specialist for company #INDvENG
— Bharat Sundaresan (@beastieboy07) February 15, 2021
His ease in handling spin through his 148-ball stint would have been the source of envy for several batsmen in the opposition camp, and perhaps a piece of inspiration to some in his own dressing room. All told, Ashwin took 74 runs from the 94 balls he faced from England’s spinners – 26 off 38 against Leach, 36 off 39 against Moeen, 23 off 36 against Joe Root and four off three against Dan Lawrence. By the time he was done, Ashwin had joined Ian Botham as the only man to have done the double of hitting a hundred and taking a five-for in an innings of the same game more than twice in Tests.
Of the 35 bowlers with more than 300 Test wickets, there are now only four with more centuries: Botham, Kapil Dev, Imran Khan, Daniel Vettori. Only one of those four has more wickets than Ashwin. He achieved this at the ground where he learned his ropes, in the second innings of a Test where the opponents had been rolled out inside 60 overs a day earlier, on a pitch that some former Test captains considered unplayable.
More pleasingly, it continues a resurgence of sorts for Ashwin the batsman. Since his final-day rearguard alongside Hanuma Vihari to save the Sydney Test, Ashwin now has three sizeable contributions in his last five innings – the 39* at the SCG, and the first-innings 31 in the first of the two Chepauk rubbers, before this 106. The runs had dried for a considerable amount of time before that. Ashwin’s last 30 innings immediately before the SCG scrap had returned only 393 runs, at an average of 14.56. Only four of these 30 innings had seen Ashwin reach 30, and not once did he cross 40. Compare that phase to the 30 innings just preceding it, the purplest patch Ashwin’s had as a Test batsman: 990 runs at an average of 34.14, with two hundreds and seven fifties, crossing 30 in half of those 30 innings, and lasting at least 50 balls on 13 occasions.
These two 30-innings sequences had seen him go from a regular number six to a nothing-above-number-eight in the Indian Test setup. For someone who has always taken some pride in his secondary suit, and for someone as astutely aware of the data, you can rest assured Ashwin would have been smarting. Welcome back, all-round Ashwin. This is much more than a ‘Kutti Story’.
While the hometown hero’s hundred was one to savour, a summary of the third day’s play at Chepauk will be incomplete without the century that wasn’t. Or rather, the 62 that was so much more than a century. ‘Ghar ki murgi, daal baraabar.’ It’s a saying oft-mentioned in Hindi-speaking households in the country. It is quite an accurate representation of one of our shortcomings as a society – an unnecessary playing down of achievements on home turf.
Ajinkya Rahane’s twin centuries in the Delhi Test against South Africa, in a series – not match, series – where no other batsman touched 90 in an innings, ought to rank as his finest Test performance. But we prefer the lure of Lord’s, or the majesty of Melbourne, when rating Indian batting displays. Virat Kohli’s Bradmanesque streak of double-centuries through the 2016/17 season – four consecutive series with at least one 200, a feat not yet managed by anyone else in the history of Test cricket – also ought to be regaled a lot more than it is. But it doesn’t, for our attribution of quality is intricately linked to marvels on overseas soil.
And then, irrespective of home or away, comes the fascination with pre-decided statistical benchmarks as the parameter for success. Which is why there’s a high probability that the Indian captain’s two second-innings efforts over the dual Chennai rubbers – 72 in the first Test, 62 in the second – might not make most ‘lists’ of Kohli’s finest knocks, of which there will be tons in the years ahead. However, chew on this. In the first 25 overs of the third morning, all Indian batsmen not called Kohli faced 83 balls, and played 27 false shots. Kohli? Eight false shots in 67 balls.
The only thing this pitch does is distinguish the best from the rest. Foakes with the gloves; Ashwin with the ball; Kohli with the bat. Which, tbh, is exactly what you'd want conditions to do: demonstrate ridiculous skill. Enjoy it. #INDvENG — Isabelle Westbury (@izzywestbury) February 15, 2021
Seeing that the drive – a storied shot in the storied manual of Virat Kohli – was proving to be his undoing against spin, Kohli virtually erased it from his playbook. Only nine of his 58 runs against spin came via the drive; prior to this innings, 27 percent of Kohli’s runs against spin at home had come driving.
It wasn’t quite Sachin-at-Sydney levels of stroke-elimination. It wasn’t quite a three-figure score.
But remember this 62. Remember the context. Remember the conversation. Remember the class.
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