• India v England, 3rd Test, Kolkata, 4th day

Ashwin brilliance keeps England waiting

The Report by Sidharth Monga
December 8, 2012 « Dodson chasing pigs & squirrels to prepare for Johnson | Chartbeat test »
India 316 and 239 for 9 (Ashwin 83*, Anderson 2-38, Finn 3-37) lead England 523 (Ojha 4-142) by 32 runs
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(File photo) Steven Finn impressed with the ball in Kolkata © PA Photos
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R Ashwin's unbeaten 83 denied England an innings victory in the third Test with India in Kolata, but Alastair Cook's men will be confident of getting the job done on Sunday.

Spin has dominated for much of the series, but James Anderson and Steven Finn took five wickets between them to leave India on 239 for 9. That is a lead of 32, which is down to the brilliance and belligerence of Ashwin who at times toyed with the bowling. He was, though, given little support from India's heralded batting attack.

For a major part of Saturday, the Barmy Army's band played loud and cheerfully at Eden Gardens as England all but consigned India to their first set of consecutive home Test defeats since 1999-2000.

It was fitting that the "band" drowned out the despondent Indian contingent in the stands, putting in place the jingoistic advertisements put together by the host broadcasters, which ridiculed English people.

The England supporters, though, were silenced a little in the morning session by a mini comeback from India. It was ruthlessly stomped over by Graeme Swann, so far a great support act to Monty Panesar in the series. Just when it seemed India might be slipping away from them for the first time in the Test, Swann assumed the lead role just after lunch.

India had taken England's last four wickets cheaply, then gone to lunch without damage but Swann came back to burst through Virender Sehwag's gate. Cats among pigeons cause less panic. Under relentless pressure, India batted and ran like headless chickens, and went from 86 for 0 to 239 for 9.

When England went into lunch having lost four wickets in 4.3 overs and then conceded 86 runs in 21 wicketless overs, there might have been thoughts of Chennai 2008-09 at the back of their heads. Swann had himself dropped Sehwag on seven and seen him race to 49 by the break. India were only 121 behind. Out comes Swann and tosses one outside off, putting all his might in trying to turn the ball, creating a gap between Sehwag's pad and his open face, and then hitting the top of off.

India were now like a pack of cards in a bicycle stand. Gautam Gambhir, who was assured in Sehwag's company, and Cheteshwar Pujara looked like they would get out any ball. Finn, bowling reverse swing at high pace, and Swann were relentless. The pitch that had looked docile thus far began exploding all of a sudden. It was merely the amount of action put into the ball.

After just 12 runs in that partnership, Gambhir called Pujara through for a risky single and Ian Bell hit the stumps direct from short midwicket. You could imagine England bowlers fighting to get a bowl now; there were easy wickets on offer.

Gambhir was nearly gone when a replay to check the validity of a low catch off Swann revealed he hadn't edged it at all. In the next over, Gambhir went driving at a wide and full ball from Finn, edging him through to Matt Prior. Just to prolong his agony, the umpires asked him to wait at the edge of the boundary as they checked for a foot fault that wasn't.

With Gambhir finally gone, focus turned to Sachin Tendulkar, playing surely his last Test innings at Eden Gardens. He had got off the mark with a trademark lap sweep, but soon stayed back to an offbreak pitched on a length. The ball from Swann didn't turn as much as he expected it to, and took the outside edge to Jonathan Trott at slip: 107 for 4.

Before India could draw breath, Finn was replaced by an even more threatening Anderson. Reverse swing at high pace again. Virat Kohli and Yuvraj Singh somehow added 15 before Anderson bowled one short of a length, and it shot low to take the bottom edge and crash into Yuvraj's stumps. MS Dhoni came in. MS Dhoni got one short outside off. MS Dhoni followed it tamely. MS Dhoni went back: 122 for 6.

Kohli was next, beautifully set up by Finn. Immediately after reversing one ball in to Kohli's bat handle, Finn inverted the shine of the ball and got it to move away. Kohli didn't have the discipline, followed it, and was taken at the wicket. He followed it with a symbolic wicket of Zaheer Khan with a reversing inswinger. Here was a former master of reverse swing who has become an innocuous trundler being shown how to do it.

A bit of comedy followed. Panesar, who had been sawn off for a golden duck in the morning, had both Ashwin and Ishant Sharma missed off his bowling. If looks could kill, England would be looking for a new wicketkeeper.

Ashwin, arguably India's most consistent Test batsman this year, continued to show he is a better batsman than he is a spinner. In the company of the obdurate Ishant and Pragyan Ojha, he added 80 in 29.3 overs. All it did was help find the spirited Indian crowd some voice, avoid an innings defeat, and take the match into the final day.

It also brought up a statistic that sums up India's series. His batting average for the series now crossed 50, behind only Pujara's, but it was still lower than his own bowling average.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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