|Second Test, Chennai (day three)|
|India 329 (Rohit 161, Moeen 4-128) & 286 (Ashwin 106, Moeen 4-98, Leach 4-100)|
|England 134 (Ashwin 5-43) & 53-3|
|England chasing 482 to win|
A century from local hero Ravichandran Ashwin heaped misery on England in the second Test against India in Chennai.
Ashwin made 106, sharing 96 with Virat Kohli, who scored 62, to take India to 286 in their second innings.
Given lives on 28, 56 and 70, Ashwin added a hundred to his five-wicket haul for the third time in his career. Only the great Sir Ian Botham has achieved the feat more often in Tests.
Set a notional 482 to win on a pitch often exploding when the ball lands, England lost three wickets in the 19 overs possible on the third evening.
After Dom Sibley was lbw to Axar Patel, Rory Burns edged Ashwin to gully and nightwatchman Jack Leach survived only two balls to leave the tourists 53-3 at the close.
With so much time left in the game, a draw is out of the question and the four-match series is set to be level at 1-1 going into the day-night third Test in Ahmedabad on 24 February.
India show the way
For two days, the pitch has been the subject of much debate – whether the excessive turn on offer from the beginning of the match is suitable for Test cricket.
Even accounting for the edge India gained by winning the toss, the main reason for their dominance on the opening two days was their superior performance, and they rammed home their advantage to give the conditions further context on Monday.
As well as England’s spinners have bowled – Leach and Moeen Ali shared 14 wickets – they have not been able to exert the same control as their India counterparts, with a loose delivery rarely far away.
With the bat, Ashwin and Kohli showed that run-scoring is possible – particularly against the older, softer ball – if batsmen can find a way to get in.
As if to emphasise England’s shortcomings, Sibley had only three to his name when he tried to work Axar on the leg side and was palpably leg before.
Burns showed admirable intent in his 25 but made the mistake of closing the face on Ashwin to offer a leading edge, exposing Leach, who turned Axar to leg slip.
Ashwin delights home crowd
At the beginning of the day with India 54-1 and 249 ahead, their control was near total, but England were still able to reduce them to 106-6 through the bowling of Moeen and Leach and the brilliant wicketkeeping of Ben Foakes.
It was at that point that Chennai-born Ashwin joined Kohli, the skipper already showing greater focus than in the first innings when he was embarrassed by Moeen.
As Kohli showed solid defence, sweet timing and crisp footwork, Ashwin scored with greater fluency, sweeping regularly on the way to a half-century from only 64 deliveries.
He was dropped at slip by Ben Stokes off Stuart Broad, with Foakes missing a thick edge off the same bowler standing up the stumps. Ashwin also could have been caught and stumped off the same Moeen delivery, only for Foakes to fumble.
Kohli’s dismissal, lbw, again to Moeen, was Ashwin’s signal to push on. On 77 when joined by last man Mohammed Siraj, he hurried through the 90s with a mighty slog-sweep for six off Moeen.
With the crowd cheering every delivery Siraj survived, there was an eruption when Ashwin edged Moeen to go to three figures and, after he played on to Olly Stone to become the last man to fall, there was further delirium when he removed Burns.
England battle on
So far behind after two days, England could do little more than hang in and hope to make improvements that will serve them well for the rest of the series.
The reprieves of Ashwin aside, Foakes produced moments of brilliance with the gloves. In the morning alone, he played a part in Cheteshwar Pujara being run out from short leg, then stumped Rohit Sharma and Rishabh Pant to become the first England keeper to take three stumpings in a men’s Test since 1968.
Off-spinner Moeen, playing his first Test since August 2019, has gradually found rhythm to take eight wickets.
All-rounder Stokes has bowled only two overs in the match, although there is not believed to be any concern from England about his fitness.
England can ill afford to miss so many chances – four in total with Joe Root’s late drop of Siraj, even if that can partly be attributed to the fatigue of fielding for most of the day in the sun.
Dan Lawrence deserves credit for the manner he battled to 19 not out, while Root survived the closest of lbw reviews from Axar in the final over of the day.
‘It’s not been a good week for England’ – what they said
BBC cricket correspondent Jonathan Agnew: “England are lucky to only be three down, frankly.”
Former England captain Michael Vaughan on The Cricket Social: “There’s not a great deal of positives England can take. They’ve just got to try and bat as long as possible and hope one or two individuals get decent scores.
“It’s not been a good week for the England team but. at the end of it, take a day or two to have a breather and then realise that they’re 1-1 in a four-match series.”
England spin-bowling consultant Jeetan Patel: “We have to stay positive. We have stroke-makers in the team and we want them to keep expressing themselves. If we sit there and try to defend for two days, we’re not going to have much success.”