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Monday, March 08, 2021

Ashwin, Kohli show how to bat on spinning tracks

On a deteriorating pitch, all-rounder and captain turn the screw on England with a century and half-century respectively.

Written by Shamik Chakrabarty | Chennai |
Updated: February 16, 2021 8:28:55 am
Ravichandran Ashwin celebrating his century on the third day of the second Test against England. (BCCI)

India should wrap up this Test on the fourth day. When they do, they will treat Ravichandran Ashwin’s century as the icing on the cake. Ashwin’s fifth Test hundred, first on his home ground, was a real bonus for the team ahead of the day-night, pink-ball Test in Ahmedabad, where batting depth could be vital in seaming conditions. Pink ball with an extra coat of lacquer, demands live grass on the surface to last.

Ashwin’s three-figure score on a Chepauk turner notwithstanding, it would help him carry forward the confidence of a centurion. The team management, too, will have the leeway to pick the XI, keeping in mind the bowling allrounder’s batting form.

After India’s second innings folded up 286, England batted for an hour and 10 minutes on the third day. Chasing an improbable 482 runs for victory, they lost three wickets for 53 runs. The visitors have become prisoners of their panic in this game. Yes, the ball is turning and jumping on this deck, especially until it is retaining the hardness and a pronounced seam. The bounce is variable also.

But this is how Indian pitches behave when the top soil is loose and grass cover non-existent. This is what almost all visiting sides from outside Asia have negotiated since Test cricket was first played in this country in 1934.

Ashwin, coming at No.8, batted for 148 balls for his 106. Virat Kohli played a gem before he got out on 62. Even Mohammed Siraj danced down the track and sent a Jack Leach delivery over long-on during his 49-run last wicket partnership with Ashwin. The pitch was difficult but not unplayable.

Compare this with Dom Sibley’s dismissal in the second innings. The England opener went back and across to a straight ball from Axar Patel and closed the bat-face, attempting to play it towards mid-wicket. The new ball skidded off the surface, trapping him leg-before. England’s fear of failure is showing.

Even a batsman of Joe Root’s calibre looked edgy. The third ball he played today, Root went back to a good length delivery from Axar and jabbed his bat down. He missed the ball and survived a very tight leg-before appeal on umpire’s call. Coming into this Test on the heels of a daddy hundred and two double hundreds, the England captain was expected to meet the spin-challenge head on. He remained unbeaten on two when stumps were drawn on Day 3. On Tuesday, it will be up to him to put up a fight and keep the dressing-room morale high. England, as balanced as they are, don’t have an Alastair Cook or a Kevin Pietersen in their ranks. They look vulnerable unless Root is leading from the front.

Today, the innings played by Kohli and Ashwin had been a rebuttal to comments made by some former cricketers. “India been better in all aspects .. But the pitch hasn’t been the same from Ball one !!! It’s fine to produce whatever you want at home to gain advantage .. But this pitch for a 5 day Test match is a stinker,” former England captain Michael Vaughan posted on Twitter on Sunday.

England’s batting coach Graham Thorpe described the surface yesterday as “the most challenging second day pitch against spin”. The tourists had probably thrown in the towel even before a ball was bowled in this game. The rotation policy in a marquee series that saw an impact batsman like Jos Buttler returning home after the first Test and the great James Anderson cooling his heels didn’t augur well either.

Sunil Gavaskar put things in perspective while commentating on Star Sports. “Some of them are saying that (pitch conditions). But you have a seeming pitch in England. Australia get dismissed for 46; the ball keeps seaming throughout. No one talks about that. It’s always about Indian pitches, and when the ball starts to turn, people pose a problem.”

Kohli’s masterclass

On Monday, India lost five quick wickets in the morning. Cheteshwar Pujara was run out, but Rohit Sharma, Rishabh Pant, Ajinkya Rahane and Axar Patel were undone by spin from Moeen Ali and Leach. But Kohli was there and at times it felt like he was playing on a completely different surface, such was his control. A CricViz Analyst mentioned that the India captain played only 12% false shots during his innings. His mastery gave him the licence to play on-drives against the turn.

Ashwin’s positivity demoralised England who made matters more difficult for themselves by dropping him twice and missing a stumping chance. Kohli, on the other hand, made light of the conditions through his class. Umpire’s call didn’t go his way and he was out leg-before. But the India skipper’s batting and his 96-run seventh wicket partnership with Ashwin had been the highlight of the day.

On a spinning track, India have been bossing the tourists because they have better batsmen for the conditions and far better spinners. Without resolve, England have fizzled.

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