India have taken an almost unshakeable grip on the second Test, with a brutal display of superior bowling and late-day batting in Chennai. Their lead is 249 runs with nine second innings wickets remaining.
England’s day began in good spirits, as India’s strong day 1 position of 300 for six became a slump to 329 all out. The potential fireworks of Rishabh Pant were muted as the wickets fell around him and he then tried to milk the strike. Moeen Ali took two wickets, one a fine stumping, and a terrible shot from Ishant Sharma to a terrible full toss. There were many column inches devoted to the ‘luck’ of Dom Bess in the first Test – it would appear that Ali’s first innings performance only repeated the dose for more runs rather than improve on it.
It is far better to consider the performance of India with the ball than England’s with the bat. They bowled as a unit, very few balls wasted by any bowler, slowly tightening the noose around each new batsman, encouraging any demons in the pitch to do the rest.
With Bumrah rested, it was Ishant that took the new ball, and he got his man in the first over – Burns trapped on the crease, and the lbw decision proving a ball would just clip the leg stump. With Zak Crawley due to return, maybe this is one failure too many for the pirate lookalike.
Ashwin was also given the new ball, and initially Sibley looked comfortable by taking a stride outside his off stump, but was in trouble as soon as Ashwin went around the wicket, ultimately falling when a sweep caught the back of his bat and was caught by Virat Kohli.
From an England point of view, where there’s Root, there’s hope. Coming into the crease at 16 for two is nothing new for Root, and he seemed to settle in quickly. But the introduction of Axar Patel, the slow left armer, encouraged a top edge from a sweep and as the ball fell into Ashwin’s big hands, the result of game also seemed to be decided.
Ashwin compounded England’s misery with two crucial wickets. First, with the last ball of the morning session, he took the glove of Lawrence and then produced the ball of the match to bowl Stokes. His frustration was unfounded, as the ball would surely have done for any left-handed batsman.
There was the beginning of a mini revival of sorts with Pope and Foakes for the sixth wicket, and they saw off spin at one end. The introduction of Siraj, with his first ball of his first spell in Test cricket in India saw Pope brilliantly caught by Pant down the leg side.
The Moeen Ali that came to bat seems a totally different cricketer than the one who batted so superbly in 2016. Confidence and technique seem distant memories. He left his bat out to a ball from Patel that first hit the thigh of Pant before finding the hands of a diving Rahane. At 105 for seven, there was now real fear of England not reaching the follow-on score of 130.
Stone surprisingly came in before Leach and maybe unsurprisingly went cheaply, before Foakes and Leach then provided some needed grit to the innings. The follow-on score was reached before Sharma returned to take Leach’s edge.
With Foakes on 42, was there a chance for a well-deserved fifty? If Broad could stick around, well possibly. But he decided to slog sweep a full ball from Ashwin and Foakes was stranded as England ended on 134 all out. Proof though that Foakes may be a competent batsman as well as a world-class keeper.
All of the Indian bowlers contributed, with wickets and with pressure. The bulk of the heavy lifting was done by Ashwin and Patel but the attack seemed better balanced than in the first Test. Siraj looks a useful third seamer to complement Sharma and Bumrah. If you wanted to be critical, India’ use of reviews was bad. It appeared that Kohli could be talked into almost anything.
If there were demons in the pitch, coaxed and encouraged by the Indian bowlers, well then, this trick would be repeated for their second innings. Sharma and Gill then proceeded to make a mockery of the concept. Is the pitch turning? Certainly. Is there indifferent bounce? Probably too much. But is it unplayable? No.
Gill was again out cheaply, failing to hit a straight one from. Some late game controversy about an lbw review and contention about Rohit playing a shot was the last real excitement of the day, although he should have been stumped by Foakes off Ali and a top-edged sweep found the square leg neither up nor back.
India are in such a strong position after only two days they can win this Test any way they want. One can only hope for the confidence of the tourists for the remainder of the tour, that they show a better spirit, however long this match lasts.
Jingle by Mog