England openers extend lead

After Ravichandran Ashwin took India close to England's first innings total, the visiting openers -- Alastair Cook and Haseeb Hameed -- put on an unbeaten 114-run stand to swell the lead to 163.

alastair cook haseeb hameed

Debutant Haseeb Hameed (left) and Alastair Cook put England in a commanding position with an unbeaten 114-run opening stand.   -  K. R. Deepak

ravichandran ashwin

Ravichandran Ashwin struck a solid half-century to take India closer to England's total.   -  K. R. Deepak

The pitch here seemed devoid of demons when Ravichandran Ashwin came up with another splendid half-century. For it was supposed to turn square and play tricks on the third day.

With the ball, Ashwin did not have a profitable outing in the first two days when England exploited the batting conditions to a post an imposing total. But he looked a batsman from the top drawer, cutting left-arm spinner Zafar Ansari in the sixth ball he faced after the former dismissed Ajinkya Rahane.

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Ashwin hasn't batted in the preceding seven home Test matches as India dominated against South Africa and New Zealand. But when called upon forty minutes into the first session on the fourth day with India having saved the follow-on, he appeared ready with his resources to take the Indian innings till tea.

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But after Ashwin holed out off spinner Moeen Ali to Ansari at deep mid wicket, a dismissal that ended India's gallant effort to get closer to the visitor’s first innings total of 537, England openers Alastair Cook and Haseeb Hameed forged a 114-run stand to lead by 163 runs.

With Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja unable to trouble the left-right opening combination, skipper Virat Kohli turned to his seamers Mohammad Shami and Umesh Yadav to choke runs for about half an hour by keeping a defensive field. The question now, after 12 sessions of play, is whether the surface would change dramatically on the last day.

If any of the three Indian spinners could have hoped for encouragement from the pitch, it had to be the wrist spinner Amit Mishra. There were areas for him to exploit just around the right hander’s on side.

Jadeja saw a handful of balls fly past the close in fielders. Ashwin persuaded Kohli to review a leg before appeal against Hameed that was turned down by umpire Chris Gaffaney. But the Decision Review System proved the Indians wrong.

England might push for a win by declaring around lunch on Sunday. It would look to set a target of over 300 and hope that it’s spinners Moeen Ali, Ansari and Adil Rashid deliver. England would certainly go for the jugular by surrounding the Indian batsmen with a strong close in field.

Cook will also rely on seamers' reverse swing to damage the host.

India lost Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane in the first session diminishing its hope of taking a first innings lead. After 40 minutes of stout defence, Rahane misjudged Ansari's length to be bowled of his front pad. Then, Kohli, who looked supremely confident, went far too back to disturb the base of the leg stump with his right foot, becoming the second Indian captain (and 20th player) to be 'hit wicket'. (Lala Amarnath was the first -- way back in the 1949 series against the West Indies and the bowler to be credited with Amarnath’s wicket was John Trim.)

India slipped from a stable position and it was a grind from thereon for Ashwin and Wriddhiman Saha. The Bengal stumper, who took a blow on the back of his head whilst ducking a short ball from Chris Woakes, tried to speed up the scoring and put on a 64-run stand that ended when he cut Ali into his counterpart’s hands.