You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Ashwin-led spin trio pummels England with bat and ball

Wisden India logo Wisden India 28-11-2016
© Wisden Photo

Like in all walks of life, intent is a massive commodity in cricket too. Intent, of course, stems from many factors. Confidence. Trust in one’s ability. Self-belief. Security.

Throughout this series, for all their competitiveness, England have steadfastly refused to show intent when it has mattered the most. In the first Test in Rajkot, when with a little more enterprise they could have asked even more serious questions of India, they chose to give their bowlers no more than 50 overs on a wearing fifth-day track, putting safety first in setting and looking at a draw as a moral victory.

In Visakhapatnam, in last week’s second Test defeat after having been set 405 in 150 overs, there was again a safety-first approach as Alastair Cook and Haseeb Hameed adopted a stonewalling policy that was admirable while it lasted, but that was always fraught with danger once one wicket led to two.

In keeping with their diffidence at the crunch, England were once again found out on the purpose front on day three of the third Test at the PCA Stadium. India began Monday (November 28) 12 runs in arrears with four wickets in hand, on 271 for 6 in reply to England’s 283. After a few early attempts at trying to separate the overnight pair of R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja (90), England were happy to slip back into a defensive mode, getting as little out of the surface as they put into it.

Scores (Day 3): England: 283 & 78/4 against India: 417

India gleefully accepted the opportunity to build a lead, riding on half-centuries for the first time in a Test innings from their Nos. 7 (Ashwin), 8 (Jadeja) and 9 (Jayant Yadav) to amass 417, an advantage of 134. For three and a half hours when England plugged away with five-wicket man Ben Stokes leading the way, waiting for the batsmen to commit mistakes, it appeared as if the surface was a batting paradise. How else could India’s bottom-five have outscored the top-five 261 runs to 156? By the time India returned to attack England with a big lead behind their back and an attitude to match, it appeared as the track had dramatically changed character.

With Ashwin in the forefront, India made serious inroads into the England top-order in a long final session. By the time Joe Root and Gareth Batty, the nightwatchman, gratefully retired to the comfort of the dressing room, they had been reduced to 78 for 4, needing a further 56 to make India bat again. The loss of Stokes in the last over to a review, leg before to give Ashwin his third success, pretty much summed up England’s day.

© Wisden Photo

In a show of intent that has been his calling card in his brief captaincy career, Virat Kohli brought spin on at the earliest. After one exploratory over, Umesh Yadav made way for Ashwin. Jadeja soon came on for Mohammed Shami so that from over seven, there was quality offspin from one side and accurate, skiddy left-arm spin from the other.

Energised by a lead that looked unlikely 24 hours earlier when they were stuttering at 156 for 5, the spin twins slipped into great rhythm. England, forced to pair Root with Cook at the top of the order with Hameed still sore and in discomfort from having been rapped on his glove by Umesh in the first innings during his dismissal, suddenly found that the same pitch on which they had toiled without a semblance of assistance was now their worst enemy.

There was turn, spitting bounce, lack of bounce; as if that weren’t bad enough, Ashwin was bowling beautifully, the ball making a wonderful arc as it left his hand, an orchestra in motion involving the run-up, the transfer of weight at the time of delivery, the fingers imparting differing spin and turn, the ball drifting and gripping and biting and dipping, the pace varied at will without any compromise on accuracy.

Cook, England’s most accomplished player of the turning ball alongside Root, looked nowhere near the 10th highest run-scorer in Test history – he went past Steve Waugh during his brief foray. While it was Ashwin who did the probing, Jadeja had the first shout for leg before. India lost a review as DRS showed the ball sliding down leg. In the next over, still on nine, Cook was adjudged leg before by Chris Gaffaney but the decision was overturned as the ball was pitching outside leg. It wasn’t third time lucky, however, as Cook played for the turn, Ashwin got one to straighten and sneak through the gate, and hit off pole.

Hameed’s absence meant all batsmen had to move one place up, which brought Moeen Ali in at No. 3 for the first time. After 17 tortured minutes, Ashwin saw him advancing down the track and shortened his length. Moeen went ahead with the stroke despite not getting to the pitch, chipping the ball for Jayant to run back from mid-on and latch on: 39 for 2, alarm bells ringing.

Just what intent can do was showcased briefly by Jonny Bairstow and Root, the No. 1 and 2 run-makers in Tests in 2016. They didn’t go looking for runs or manufacturing strokes, but they were positive in their movements, aggressive even in defence and therefore always in a position to put away the bad balls, of which there weren’t many. It helped, too, that Ashwin and Jadeja were given a breather after extended first spells that together read 21-5-36-2, until Jayant threw a spanner in the works by having Bairstow beautifully caught low by Parthiv Patel behind the stumps.

Ashwin and Jadeja had combined the previous evening to rally India from 204 for 6, their stand already worth 67 when play began on day three. Ashwin set the tone by whipping the day’s first ball, from Chris Woakes, through square-leg, and Jadeja then slammed Moeen over mid-off to put India in the green.

© Wisden Photo

As the stand closed in on three figures, England resorted to the tactics they had employed against Kohli the preceding afternoon, packing the off-side and looking to choke the flow of runs. It paid off when Ashwin reached out to Stokes and sliced a drive to point. Big hurdle out of the way, 97-run stand cut short.

But it wasn’t the end of India’s resistance. Jadeja hasn’t always batted in Test cricket like someone with three first-class triples, but he responded to Kohli’s exhortations at the end of the second Test in grand fashion. Refusing to be sucked into going searching for the ball, he carried on from his overnight assuredness, mixing long periods of leaves outside off with meaty blows on his way to his first instance of batting 100 balls in a Test innings. His second Test fifty against England brought out the sword-dance and, in Jayant, he found another ally sharing his philosophy of making a good thing count.

Slideshow: 27 cricket world records you must know about

Cricket world records you must know about

Cook summoned all his resources – Adil Rashid past the first hour, the forgotten Batty some 20 minutes before lunch – but to no avail. After a lull post lunch when only nine came off seven overs, Jadeja improvised to throw Woakes’s negative line off kilter with four fours in one over to close in on a maiden ton.

That wasn’t to be, however, as he charged Rashid and picked out long-on, marching off in his ‘Rajput’ engraved shoes to grand applause from a smallish crowd and an appreciative dressing-room. Then 33, Jayant was helped along to his maiden fifty by an obdurate Umesh, who batted an hour and was beautifully shielded by the No. 9 playing just his second Test.

Stokes claimed Jayant and Shami in the space of three deliveries for his third five-for, just reward for unflagging persistence and large-hearted effort. But that was as good as it got for England, now in genuine danger of going 0-2 down with two to play.

Watch: 'India in respectable position due to Ashwin'

Replay Video

More from Wisden India

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon