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Ashwin, Kohli drive home India’s advantage

Wisden India logo Wisden India 19-11-2016
© AP Photo

India’s two most influential Test players in recent times have undoubtedly been Virat Kohli, the captain, and R Ashwin, his trusted demolition man. They have cashed in on good times, turned around the bad ones, and donned the leadership role with the bat and ball respectively with aplomb, not so much carrying as inspiring the rest around them.

The duo was once again in the thick of things at the ACA-VDCA Cricket Stadium on Saturday (November 19), as the second Test gathered pace. India began the third day in control and ended it well in the driver’s seat, but at various stages, they were challenged by a resilient England who showed more pluck than perhaps several might have expected of them.

Through Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow, England ensured that their first innings wasn’t a complete washout. Then, through the excellent new-ball duo of James Anderson and Stuart Broad, they kept India honest despite conceding a first-innings deficit of exactly 200. Yet, for all the resolve and fortitude England showcased, India continued to call the shots, extending their overall advantage on an increasingly wearing surface to 298 by reaching 98 for 3 at close on the back of the skipper’s incandescent unbeaten 56.

Scores (Day 3): India: 455 & 98/3 against England: 255

The remarkable Ashwin’s staggering 22nd five-wicket haul in just his 41st game once Umesh Yadav had snipped the Stokes-Bairstow sixth-wicket association at 110 prevented the England tail from wagging with any ferocity. Overnight 103 for 5 in reply to India’s 455, the visitors were bowled out some 35 minutes before tea for 255, failing to avoid the follow on by one run but never really in any danger of being asked immediately to bat a second time.

As India chose to build on their not insignificant lead, they were greeted not by the pressure of the situation but through wonderful bowling from Anderson and Broad, England’s bowling bulwarks for so long now. This is Anderson’s first match since a shoulder injury in August put him out of commission; Broad is carrying a foot injury the verdict on which is awaited. The two old pros put all that behind them to put the Indian top order through a searching examination.

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It was a test that, Kohli apart, India didn’t pass with any colours, leave alone flying. M Vijay was caught by a diving gully as Broad nipped one back into him, the ball took the inside edge and then lobbed off the pad. KL Rahul avoided the pair but then hung his bat out to dry for the second time in three days and feathered to Bairstow. Both initial not-out verdicts from Rod Tucker were overturned with the use of technology, but the biggest gathering of the match wasn’t unduly worried as the new No. 4 with the aura of the old two-drop briskly took his place in the middle.

Within five deliveries, Kohli left his imprint, a particularly glorious, picture-perfect cover-drive off Broad once again singling him out as the men among boys. Cheteshwar Pujara, like Kohli a first-innings centurion, was totally belaboured and was eventually put of his misery by a beauty from Anderson that shaped in late and shot through the gate, but where the rest of his colleagues struggled, Kohl was having an open net against two of the premier fast bowlers in the world.

Pujara’s dismissal had left India in some strife, 40 for 3 increasing their overall advantage to only 240, when Ajinkya Rahane put his hand up. Not having had the best of series, the tenacious Mumbaikar survived anxious plays early on but gradually came into his own, even though by attempting horizontal-bat shots on a pitch where the bounce was getting increasingly ragged, he wasn’t exactly playing the percentages. Kohli, quite the master, guided his deputy through that period to stumps.

Ashwin has bowled far better than he did on Saturday for far worse returns. But just like a hard-working century is often more rewarding from a batsman’s viewpoint than a hundred emanating from being in the zone, an industrious five-wicket haul can bring greater satisfaction than when the opposition rolls over without a fight. Ashwin will treasure this 5 for 67 more than some of his recent five-fors, because he was forced to keep plugging away on a surface that was less helpful than might have imagined, before the rewards all came in a final burst of 7.5-0-14-3 with the second new ball.

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Perhaps, his confidence had taken a slight beating – though that is hard to envisage – after a poor review call with his first ball of the morning, the seventh of the day. As Bairstow got down low to sweep and gloved the ball, Ashwin was convinced he had struck the pad instead, and immediately prompted Kohli to make the ‘T’ sign. The very first replay indicated that the review was ill-advised, India’s sixth unsuccessful review in eight attempts this series.

With the roller having settled the surface down, there were no immediate, pressing alarms for Stokes and Bairstow. It helped too that Ashwin dragged the ball down reasonably regularly in his first couple of overs, allowing the aggressive Stokes to get off to a positive start. India found the edges, but they fell short or wide. When the ball stayed down, it was from just outside the line of the stumps. And when they tried different things in a bid to effect the breakthrough, they committed enough errors for the sixth-wicket pair to cash in.

In the search for reverse, Kohli stuck with Umesh Yadav and Mohammed Shami for the first eight overs from the Press & Media End and employed Ashwin and Jayant Yadav from the Pavilion End – surprisingly, Ashwin didn’t bowl at all from the end from which he got both successes the previous evening. There wasn’t much reverse to be had and the spinners, including Ravindra Jadeja, never seriously threatened consistently; the score board didn’t exactly rattle along, but England were beginning to steady the ship when Kohli called Umesh back for a second spell, and struck pay-dirt almost instantaneously.

Having brought up a deserved half-century and a 100-stand with Stokes – sixth-wicket partnerships have been the most productive for England in Tests this year – Bairstow played all over a full inswinger from Umesh that cannoned into his stumps off the pad. The strike, coming with lunch imminent, bolstered Indian spirits and they came out rejuvenated after the break, Kohli taking the new ball to try and work through the lower order.

Adil Rashid got stuck into Umesh with a succession of boundaries even as Stokes played powerfully off the back foot and looked confident, secure and at home in defence against spin and pace alike. With the runs flowing, the captain took the pacers off and brought back Jadeja and Ashwin. Stokes was caught on the move by an Ashwin quicker one and trapped in front, while Zafar Ansari was hoodwinked by Jadeja’s length to also fall leg before. Both looked palpably out but both men opted for abortive reviews, which meant that when Broad was adjudged leg before with plenty of doubt riding on the decision, England had no challenges left.

Ashwin completed his five-wicket haul the ball after Broad’s dismissal by pinging Anderson plumb in front to put himself in line for a hat-trick when the England chase kicks on at some stage on Sunday. The hat-trick, though, won’t necessarily be of the highest priority for him. Not with a greater, team-orientated goal to aim for.

Photos: Ashwin takes five, Virat builds strong lead

India vs England, 2nd Test: R Ashwin takes five, Virat Kohli builds strong lead: India were in supreme control at the end of Day 3 of the second Test against England in Vizag. Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane stood comfortably in the middle despite the pitch deteriorating and the variable bounce on display at various moments on the day. The second innings score read 98/3 for India and had the hosts in good position to force England into the backfoot and go for a result. (Source: AP) India vs England, 2nd Test: R Ashwin takes five, Virat Kohli builds strong lead

Watch: 'Ashwin will cherish 5-wicket haul vs England'

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