Ravichandran Ashwin was back in his element with yet another five-wicket haul, setting up a perfect launchpad for skipper Virat Kohli to extend India’s lead to 298 runs against England at stumps on Day 3 of the second Test on Saturday.
Courtesy Ashwin’s five for 67, India bowled out England for 255 in their first innings to take a massive 200-run lead.
Deciding against enforcing follow-on, India reached 98 for 3 in their second innings at close of play with skipper Kohli once again leading from the front with an attacking 56 off 70 balls. His innings was laced with six boundaries.
First-innings centurion, Kohli, was batting in the company of Ajinkya Rahane (22).
While the pitch has not deteriorated massively, batting on fourth and fifth day will be trickier and Kohli would like to take charge and set up a target beyond the reach of the visitors, who will be batting fourth.
After an indifferent first session, it was Ashwin, who turned the tables on the visitors with his 22nd five-wicket haul in Test cricket.
The off-spinner faced some challenges but he returned to rip through the tail with wickets in successive deliveries after Ben Stokes (70) and Jonny Bairstow (53) put on 110 runs for the fifth wicket.
With overnight figures of 2 for 20, Ashwin had a lean first spell (9-1-33-0) after he was introduced in the second over of the day, struggling to break the Stokes-Bairstow partnership.
But he returned in the second session and got the ball to grip and skid off the pitch in a fine spell of 7.5-0-14-3, which included the wicket of England top-scorer Stokes, who hit 11 boundaries.
Ashwin now has five-wicket hauls against all the Test nations he has played against — six against New Zealand, four each against Australia, South Africa and West Indies, two against Sri Lanka and one each against Bangladesh and England.
In 2016, the 30-year-old has 52 wickets, two behind Rangana Herath’s 54.
Earlier, Stokes carried England’s survival hopes and found a fine ally in Bairstow (53), who batted brilliantly despite a troubled ankle before being cleaned up by a fullish delivery from Umesh Yadav with 10 minutes to go for the lunch.
With 33 minutes to tea, England’s first innings folded for in 102.5 overs with a deficit of exactly 200 runs.
England, however, had an impressive first session with Stokes and Bairstow oozing confidence and determination on a pitch with variable bounce but little assistance for spinners.
Starting off from the pavillion end, Ashwin had an underwhelming first spell that included a first ball DRS referral only to be overturned.
Bairstow got one to sweep with a not-out verdict but an overconfident Ashwin showed the ‘T’ sign without consulting his captain Kohli.
Then in the 55th over, Wriddhiman Saha failed to gather the ball cleanly with Stokes’ backfoot out of crease as a stumping opportunity with the batsman on 24, was missed.
Stokes and Bairstow (53) dominated the first session and with India desperate for a breakthrough, Umesh Yadav finally gave the opening when he cleaned up the latter with a fuller delivery.
Having completed his 12th Test half-century with a boundary against Yadav a couple of overs ago, Bairstow was beaten by pace as he tried to work the ball away before it cannoned into his leg stump after grazing his pad.
Barring that opening towards the later stage, the first session clearly belonged to the English left-right duo.
Having tripped over his ankle while walking out to bat, Bairstow defied pain and played beautifully and along with Stokes, the duo became the most-prolific pairing in 2016, getting past Alastair Cook and Alex Hales.
He looked fully confident against Umesh Yadav against whom he brought up his fifty driving the ball to the boundary which also brought up their hundred partnership in 238 balls.
With his fifty, Bairstow also joined AB de Villiers (in 2013) as the most 50-plus scores in a calendar year but a yorker gave India the much-needed opening.
The pitch looked like worn-out but Ashwin had to wait for his first wicket till the 11th over of his day.
Stokes wicket virtually opened the gate for India as Ravindra Jadeja bowled Zafar Ansari (4) at the other end before the Ashwin trapped Stuart Board (13) and James Anderson (0) leg before off successive deliveries.