For 139 balls, Jayant Yadav afforded England bowlers or fielders not even the remotest semblance of hope that they could dislodge him. He had an answer to anything that the England bowlers hurled at him. They changed ploys, lines, lengths and fields, but Yadav stood his ground, unflustered. He was making the best use of an unprecedented induction in international cricket, and he knew his utility with bat will count as much as the efficacy with the ball.
When Ravichandran Ashwin’s edge was finally procured, with India just 18 runs ahead, England would have sensed to wrap the India’s innings, the farthest by lunch. Sure, they had a hang of Yadav’s batting prowess, he had calmly defied them in Visakhapatnam, but they didn’t have a measure of it. First, they tried all those tricks the bowlers normally attempt against lower-order batsmen – the yorker, slower balls and the bouncers. Then they began treating him like a proper top-order batsman, setting in-out fields, adopting defensive lengths or tempting him with wide balls outside the off-stump.
But Yadav didn’t succumb to either as he swelled his reputation as a handy batsman with a trenchant 55, another vital chapter in India’s comeback script. To call him a lower-order would be ridiculing his batsmanship, for in his three international knocks thus far, he has the adequate requisites to blossom into a trusted batsman down the order. It’s just that he comes at No 9, not that he bats like one.
Agreed the strip must have been slumbering on an over-dose of tranquillisers, and he should replicate his efforts in tougher climes before any conclusive judgements could be passed on his batting, but he nonetheless showed one particularly endearing quality of a top-order batsman – temperament.
A temperament eerily reminiscent of Ashwin. Now the Ashwin comparison seems irrepressible. He may not be as graceful or effortless as the fellow offie, but like him has the range of strokes, and even perhaps a better technique on the off-side. While Ashwin has a tendency to drive loosely outside the off-stump, his feet static on the ground, Yadav meets the ball right where it’s landing, with negligible gap between his bat and body. The “gate” is nonexistent. But like Ashwin, he is a crunchy driver of the ball, and is ruthless to anything straying on to the leg-side or over-pitched.
He, in a sense, is an Ashwin without frills and wrists.
Anderson would vouch for it. The very first ball he bowled to Yadav, he hit him down the ground, nothing more than a checked push. In the same over, Anderson slanted marginally away from the stumps. Yadav just switched to his back-foot and coaxed it through covers. Thus he suddenly overturned the impetus that was sightly on England’s side, soon after Ashwin’s exit. It was still a tricky period for India, with the balance of the match swinging like a pendulum, but Jadeja and Yadav not only weathered the storm but also catapulted India to an indomitable position in the match.
There was an interesting stat that illuminated the burgeoning reputation of India’s lower order batsman – that it was the first time ever their No 7, 8, 9 scored half-centuries in the same Test. It was not a stray occurrence either. Earlier this year, in West Indies, Ashwin had orchestrated a wonderful rearguard on a spicy pitch in St Lucia. On the land mines against South Africa, they had shown a similar doggedness. Even in tours of Australia and England, they had demonstrated their aptitude on several occasions. But what makes this a curious happenstance is that all three were batsmen involved were too.
Hunting in pairs
There worthiness couldn’t be ascertained more, as between them they accounted for more than half of India’s first-innings total – they contributed 217 off the 417 runs they ended up with. On the weight of their runs, India gathered an authoritative lead of 134 runs. For India had yet to dig deep, when Kohli departed with the contest evenly-locked at 204/6. But first the dervish bowling pair of Ashwin and Jadeja replicated their chemistry when bowling with a resuscitating alliance of 97 runs, before Jadeja and Yadav chalked out 80 on their own.
The feature of both the alliances that batted like they were specialists batsmen, immune to any negative baggages of lower-order batsmen. If Ashwin was in regal touch, Anderson will again attest to that, Jadeja was defiant, curbing his own instincts and Yadav assured, putting not a foot wrong until the 139th ball, which he edged to Jonny Bairstow, but was spilled. Two balls later, Bairstow clung on to another edge. But it hardly altered the complexion of the game.
Later on their merit of their bowling, India find themselves favourites to wrap up the match, before the shadows begin to lengthen in Mohali on Tuesday. Together, they justified the cricketing altruism that the deeds with bat could reflect on their feats with the ball.
Suddenly, when Jadeja and Ashwin began to bowl in tandem, the snoozing pitch woke up. Jadeja was getting the ball to skid through, obviously his briskness outdoing the slowness of the strip. Ashwin and Yadav began purchasing sufficient turn to puzzle the English batsman. Their height meant they haggled more bounced too off the surface.
Ashwin sow the seeds of doubts in Cook’s mind with a ball that turned sharply away, before breaching through his defence with one than minutely turned. He then fooled Moeen Ali in flight.
The Jayant Yadav’s ball hissed off a crack to kiss Jonny Bairstow’s under edge. Ashwin’s ripping off-breaks were back in vogue as he squared Stokes up with one, before it was reviewed and judged adjacent.
Meanwhile, Jadeja was grossly unfortunate to have returned with a wicket or two, but he, his pace and accuracy, could be the most potent proposition for the English batsmen on the fourth day.
At the end of the day, with England still 57 runs behind and four wickets down, they’d be left wondering how the Indian spinners had contrived to make the strip look so scary, or unshackle it from the slumber. Bairstow reckoned it was supreme craft. Jadeja credited it to the runs in their kitty. “If your team has the upper hand or if you are in a good situation, obviously the opposing team will struggle. Like when we went to England, their spinners also looked like it was Muralitharan bowling. I will say that it all depends on the situation. Whichever team has the upper hand, their bowlers look threatening, their batsmen look very good.”
Partly, England too should shoulder the blame. They were short of ideas, inspiration, imagination and belief, an antithesis to the heart and vigour they had shown on Sunday. The point can’t be better illustrated by the fact that they began the day with Moeen Ali and Chris Woakes. Practical wisdom suggested they should have began with Anderson and Stokes, the most penetrative bowlers and the second new ball was just four overs old. Even if they wanted a spinner, Adil Rashid could have been a more sensible choice.
Agreed, they had to keep a tab on the score, but that reeked of negativity. India were still 12 runs behind and no matter how utilitarian the latter’s lower-order is, they could have had the belief that they could run over Ashwin and his lower-order colleagues. Instead, they sat back, waiting for errors than inducing them. Maybe, they were a little jaded after all the frantic intensity they had shown on Sunday. But now the prospects of a series-levelling win seem as distant as the cloud-less horizon of the city. And now India’s spin triumvirate will be feared as much as for their vitality with the bat as their productivity with the ball.