And it took India just about two and a half hours on Tuesday to set up a World Test Championship ‘semifinal’ with the pink ball in just about a week’s time. A loss in that game will rule India out of contention for the WTC title-round while a win will allow them to get the necessary lead and choose a pitch of their liking for the fourth Test to eke out a desired result.
A draw, which looks unlikely with a pink ball unless it rains, will keep the battle for the final open, but will rule England, who need to win 3-1, out of contention and sent Australia through to meet Trans-Tasman rivals New Zealand.
For all those equations to come into the picture, India needed to do their job here and the spinners R Ashwin (3-58) and Axar Patel (5-60) did that to perfection. Still, this will always be remembered as the Rohit Sharma Test for his 161 in the first innings on a very difficult pitch. England managed 164 in the second innings (after their 134 in the first), and that shows the kind of quality and impact the Mumbai stylist knock had.
The Man of the Match award went to Ashwin for his eight wickets in the game and a second innings century, but even he wouldn’t have complained if it had gone Rohit’s way instead.
Ashwin, though, did everything that was expected of him on a pitch that was helping him. Even on the fourth day, his first ball brought a wicket to hasten England’s collapse. Ashwin predicted that Dan Lawrence would look to give him the charge and pushed the ball through and the ever-improving Rishabh Pant did a leg side stumping with absolute ease.
Ashwin’s use of angles and his variations in pace were so subtle and effective on this pitch that the England batsmen lost the game completely in their minds. In their fear to deal with the magic ball, Root’s boys were unable to tackle the comparatively simpler ones, playing poor shots on and off to give their wickets away.
While Ashwin made the Chepauk turner his platform to show off his wizardry, debutant Axar was at his pragmatic best. He kept the ball around the good length at a decent pace and allowed the pitch to do the rest. The ball was turning, bouncing or keeping low as per the mood of the 22 yards and the England batsmen just didn’t know how to deal with this kind of bowling.
“It was an education for us and I hope we get better after this experience,” Root said, trying to look at the positives of their capitulation.
Chinaman bowler Kuldeep Yadav (2-25) got only six overs and it would be a surprise if Virat Kohli persists with him on turning tracks.
He is a little too slow through the air and it allows batsmen time to adjust after the ball lands, even if they are beaten in flight.
The fact that Root was dropped of his bowling trying a reverse sweep didn’t help his cause either. There was, however, a bit of relief for the spinner as he managed to take a couple of wickets after lunch.