IND vs ENG: Pant's 91 in vain as India battles to avoid follow-on

Rishabh Pant and Cheteshwar Pujara helped India recover from early jolts but Dom Bess's 4 for 55 has put England in charge.

Rishabh Pant struck an 88-ball 91 on day three of the first Test against England.   -  BCCI

A natural riding on his skills, he shimmied down and struck the ball with brutal force. It was a thrill ride while it lasted. It seemed Rishabh Pant was batting without a care in the world.

But then, cricket is a many-layered game. It is deeply tactical and a batsman’s seemingly reckless ways could be a thoughtful yet brave response to a challenge.

Left-arm spinner Jack Leach was a distinct threat to the left-handers, getting the ball to jump into the batsman from the developing rough outside the off-stump from over the wicket.

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Pant's pyrotechnics

And how did the explosive Pant respond? He danced down to Leach, took the rough out of the equation, and blasted the ball for sixes between long-on and mid-wicket.

Indeed, Pant’s 88-ball 91 was the highlight of the third day’s play even as England, led by off-spinner Dom Bess’ four-wicket haul, took a firm grip on the first Test at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium on Sunday.

Replying to England’s mammoth 578, India was 257 for six at stumps. Washington Sundar, stroking the ball with a left-hander’s elegance and grace, was batting on 33, along with R. Ashwin, on eight.

Earlier, Cheteshwar Pujara’s well-made 73 - he drove crisply through covers and mid-wicket - was ended by a stroke of ill-luck when his full blooded pull off Bess bounced off Ollie Pope to Rory Burns at short mid-wicket.

With the pitch expected to deteriorate, India will have a demanding job saving this Test.

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Besting Indian batsmen

Bess will be a distinct threat. The off-spinner was impressive on day three imparting revs on the ball and getting it to dip, drift and turn. His basics are sound; he pivots well, has an ideal hip-drive and delivers from an easy, high-arm action.

He consumed Virat Kohli with a beautiful delivery that drifted and turned. The Indian captain pushed forward and was picked up smartly by Pope at short-leg. It was a classic off-spinner’s dismissal. The loop in Bess’ delivery was the principal reason Ajinkya Rahane miscued a low full toss and Joe Root, diving to his left, much like a goal-keeper, held a sensational catch at short-cover.

Pant too was done in by the dip, as he charged Bess, could not get to the ball’s pitch, and was picked up at deep cover. Before his third Test dismissal in the 90s, Pant delighted with his terrific bat speed, powerful wrists, astonishing power and fascinating footwork. And Leach took a pounding.

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Pant is an enforcer and while he is in the middle, it appears a different game altogether. The opposition’s mindset changes from picking wickets to stemming the flow of runs.   

Earlier, the rhythmic Jofra Archer struck twice in a red hot opening burst. Rohit Sharma, playing away from his body, nicked one with good carry that left him. And Shubman Gill (29), oozing class off his legs, checked his shot and was well held by a sprawling James Anderson at mid-on.

As the day wore on, Washington batted with some style, hit two flowing cover-drives, off Ben Stokes and Leach. However, he could have fallen to Leach on 25 had Archer held on to a skier running with his back to the ball from mid-on.

The lasting image of the day was Pant dancing down to Leach. What a champion!

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