FEBRUARY 15, 2021
Brief Scorecard: England 134 and 53 for 3 (Lawrence 19*, Root 2*) need 429 more runs to beat India 329 and 286 (Ashwin 106, Kohli 62, Moeen 4-98, Leach 4-100)
As India flexed their muscle on day three, moving inexorably towards a series-levelling triumph over England, the second Chennai Test began to take on a carnival feel. Already well ahead in the game and with time to indulge, they served up an exhibition for a grateful Chepauk crowd. R Ashwin, the local hero, proved himself worthy of such billing with a fifth Test hundred and England were hanging on by stumps as the ball fizzed and the close catchers circled.
After the subcontinental batting masterclass, followed closely by a trial against spin, now was the moment for England to contend with an Indian wall of sound. Despite scrapping hard to take five wickets during the morning session, they were steadily enveloped by the hoots, whistles and cheers from the stands, as first Virat Kohli and then Ashwin steadied India’s second innings, before the home spinners returned to their task with relish.
Notionally, England needed 482 to win or two-and-a-bit days of rearguard resistance. Practically, they were merely searching for scraps of encouragement to accompany them on the road to Ahmedabad.
There could be no more appropriate thala in India’s efforts to drive home their advantage than Ashwin. He came into this game having not passed 50 in a Test since 2017, but after taking an aggressive approach from the outset, he eventually reached a raucously received hundred during the evening session – achieving the double of a century and a five-wicket haul in the same match for the third time. Just imagine the decibel level if Chepauk had been at more than 50% capacity.
His route to three figures had featured numerous sweeps, a few hearty biffs and no little drama. When India resumed after tea, Ashwin was on 68 and had only the last two batsmen to keep him company; he might have been stumped almost straight away, but the ball eluded Ben Foakes – the brilliance of whose keeping had kept up English spirits earlier in the day – and he was still 23 short when Mohammed Siraj walked out at the fall of the ninth wicket.
But with the crowd cheering every dot ball that Siraj negotiated, Ashwin raised the tempo and the volume. England took the new ball but Ashwin carved Jack Leach away to move into the 90s, then took on Moeen Ali, striking a clean six into the stands before charging down to slice four more to third man and bring team-mates, family and spectators to their feet.
No one celebrated more gleefully than Siraj, who having upheld his part of the bargain swung a couple over the ropes himself as India’s last-wicket pair added 49 to give England one final kick, as well as silence any lingering discontent about the state of the pitch. The issue on a turning surface has simply been one of skill, and despite a more proactive batting effort England were soon in trouble once again.
For the seventh time in eight attempts, England’s openers failed to take the scoreboard past 17, as Dom Sibley was pinned by an Axar Patel arm ball. Rory Burns and Dan Lawrence enjoyed marginally greater success with deliberate use their feet, but Ashwin picked up his sixth wicket of the match when Burns closed the face to be caught at gully, and Patel removed nightwatchman Leach to leave England three down at the close.
Such was the intensity of Kohli’s desire to extract maximum retribution for defeat in the first Test that he could be seen heatedly arguing with the interpretation of DRS after his counterpart, Joe Root, survived an lbw appeal by millimetres in the final over of the day.
Having failed so abysmally with the bat first time around, England were given an extended spell in detention before their fourth-innings examination. Wickets fell quickly inside the first hour of the day, with Foakes’ glovework responsible for two stumpings and a run-out, but Kohli and Ashwin were able to fashion an extended union as the ball got softer. Having come in on a pair and taken 20 balls to get going, Kohli played with steely resolve in conditions that were still tricky, passing 50 for the second time in the series during a 96-run stand.
Kohli was eventually trapped lbw by Moeen, who claimed an eight-wicket haul on his return to Test cricket, but the force was increasingly with Ashwin as England missed several chances to dismiss him. Stuart Broad was twice the unlucky bowler during an old-ball spell of fast legcutters with the keeper up to the stumps: Ben Stokes could not hold on one-handed at slip with Ashwin on 28, and Foakes put down a thin outside edge (off a 132kph/82mph delivery) when he had made 56.
England were perhaps already resigned to their fate, but Foakes’ efforts deserved to be remembered for the soft hands and lightning reactions that did for Rohit Sharma and Rishabh Pant – making him the first England wicketkeeper to effect three stumpings in a men’s Test since Alan Knott in 1968. That will remain a footnote in a Test that is all over by the shouting (and whistling) in Chennai.