Chennai: Ravichandran Ashwin first gave a lesson on how to bowl on a rank turner and then provided a batting master-class with a sparkling hundred on a deteriorating strip, putting India on the brink of a massive series-levelling victory against England on the third day of the second Test here on Monday.
Ashwin’s fifth Test hundred — a gutsy 106 off 148 balls along with Virat Kohli’s near flawless 62 off 149 balls got India to a more than decent 286 in 85.5 overs, leaving England with an improbable target of 482 runs on a dust bowl.
At stumps, England were already crumbling at 53 for 3 and it would take nothing short of a miracle for England to bat for two days and save the match.
Even their resolute captain Joe Root and coach Chris Silverwood wouldn’t be optimistic on a track where exploding divots are making it extremely difficult to bat.
But difficult doesn’t mean impossible. Just like facing a quality seam bowler on a green top is an art, one needs plenty of skills and mental fortitude to counter spinners on a dust bowl.
“I will sleep well through the night, that is all that I am thinking,” Ashwin, the star of the day, said after stumps.
“I don’t know what the team is feeling like but I am sure they are thrilled.” Skipper Kohli and Ashwin showed the likes of Michael Vaughan that they have that in abundance as India batted nearly 182 overs across two innings on a track that many deemed as under-prepared after England failed to score even 150.
For Ashwin, it was the third time in his Test career when he notched up a five-for and a hundred along with it. Only England legend Ian Botham stands ahead of him with five such efforts in his career.
India’s batting exhibition in the second innings was a statement for all the Doubting Thomases on how to bat on a third-day track.
It only helped that Moeen Ali (32-7-98-4) and Jack Leach (33-6-100-4) were not half as good as Ashwin and Axar Patel were on the second day.
If Rohit Sharma set it up with a classy Day 1 hundred, Ashwin and Kohli, in the next two days, didn’t take their feet off the pedal to put England in the tightest of corners.
England got three quick wickets in the morning leaving India in a spot at 65 for 4 but Kohli again seemed in a mood to make batting look easy.
He displayed defensive elegance and also used the sweep shot only for deliveries that were drifting down the leg-side. There were seven boundaries, mostly drives and in Ashwin he found an able ally. They added 96 runs in 177 balls, a partnership that deflated England completely.
Ashwin relied on shots square of the wicket and left Kohli with the job of grafting, taking it upon himself to attack the England bowling.
Ravindra Jadeja’ ascendancy as India’s all-conditions specialist spin bowling all-rounder led to Ashwin losing a bit of confidence and the cutting edge he possessed with the willow.
But everything changed after the semi-fit Chennai engineer pulled off a last day wonder in Sydney which has now helped him get his mojo back. He has tremendously upgraded his variations and the confidence in ‘Ashwin the bowler’ has brought to the fore ‘Ashwin the batsman’.
The way he marshalled the tail was commendable with two partnerships — 27 with Ishant Sharma (7) and 49 with Mohammed Siraj (16) for the 10th wicket.
In both cases, he cleverly shielded the strike and finally reached 97 with a six. A miscued shot got him his hundred and the ensuing celebrations, especially from Kohli punching his fists while giving a standing ovation, said it all.