As a bowler, R. Ashwin has played the now-familiar role of a tormentor far too often in the recent past. On Sunday afternoon, the batting prowess of Ashwin came to the fore during the critical phase of the third Test here on Sunday.
Just when England was making its first innings tally of 283 look a lot bigger than it initially appeared, Ashwin held centrestage and launched a calculated counter-attack.
It was as though Ashwin was determined to make up for his lone wicket in England’s innings, which terminated by Mohammad Shami’s twin-strike in 11 deliveries this morning.
Coming in at 156 for five, Ashwin returned unbeaten on 57, having added 67 runs with Ravindra Jadeja for the on-going seventh-wicket stand in India’s 271 for six. It is pertinent to note that in Ashwin’s presence in the middle so far, 115 precious runs have been scored for the loss of Virat Kohli’s wicket.
Trailing by 12 runs, India will rely on this well-set pair to ensure a handy first innings lead on Monday. Given the status of the pitch, that is increasingly assisting spin, India would obviously like to keep its run-chase to the minimum.
The script looked a lot different earlier in the final session. The travelling British fans filling up the ‘terrace’ stands of the Punjab Cricket Association ground had much to cheer about after what they witnessed four overs into the post-tea session. After all, the fall of three wickets suddenly gave an imposing look to what once appeared an inadequate England total.
Resuming the day’s final session at 148 for two, Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara looked to add to their 75-run stand. After ‘born-again’ Test player Parthiv Patel departed for 46 following an England review, Pujara had taken his series aggregate past 300 runs during a delightful 51 – his 11th Test half century.
But a dramatic collapse was round the corner. In the space of eight runs and 19 deliveries, Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane and debutant Karun Nair left Kohli’s company.
Pujara’s pull was pouched by a diving Chris Woakes at midwicket. Rahane once again out cheaply to spin and became leg-spinner Adil Rashid’s third victim but not before wasting an Indian review.
Nair, after a pleasing cover-driven boundary, responded to Kohli’s call for a second run, but was beaten by a diving Jos Buttler’s direct throw at the non-striker end.
At this point, the flag-waving England supporters were on their feet, vociferously cheering their team’s fierce comeback. Clearly, the ground conceded to India by England batsmen was being wrested right back by the bowlers.
This was when Ashwin joined an increasingly desperate Kohli and started the repair job.
As it turned out, the duo added 48 runs that took India to 204 before Kohli fell short of making the most his 14th Test half century. Noticeably, once again in this series, the dismissal of the Indian captain involved the outer edge of his bat.
Soon, to add to the anxiety of the home supporters, Ashwin hobbled to complete his 27th run and left the dressing room understandably worried. The physio was ready to provide a helping hand but Ashwin chose to stay focussed on the rescue-job.
In the company of a resolute Jadeja desperate to reaffirm his batting credentials, Ashwin went on to reach his ninth Test half-century. In the process, he also joined the select few to complete 500 runs and 50 wickets in a calendar year. For the record, so far this year, Ashwin has scored 530 runs at an astonishing average of 48.18 and taken 56 wickets.
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