Accepted wisdom is that a Test pitch should offer something for the batsman and something to the bowler. For India, local Chennai boy Ravi Ashwin it has offered both delights and he has performed each role magnificently as he goes into day 4 with some records in sight. His fifth Test hundred was a batting masterclass in subcontinental conditions.
Having not passed 50 in a Test since 2017, he powered to three figures with controlled aggression, achieving the double of a century and a five-wicket haul in the same match for the third time. Not only was his strike rate a distinctly brisk 71.62, he had only reached 68 when he had only India's Nos 10 and 11 for support. Sharma survived 24 balls to help Ravi along, but special mention must go to Mohammad Siraj, who played his role to perfection.
England had taken the new ball, but that was not going to stop Ravi as he clubbed Leach for four and then blasted the same bowler into the stands to motor through the nineties. If the slice to third man that brought up his ton was fortuitous, it was fortune well earned. Siraj celebrated as if the century was his own and the crowd roared their approval. If that's what a 50 per cent full M. A. Chidambaram sounds like, it must be quite something to hear it at capacity.
England may have dared to hope that respite would now come, but they had to think again as their increasingly weary minds and bodies endured a last-wicket stand of 49 and Siraj, freed of his minder role, tucked into a couple of meaty maximums for himself.
Earlier, in the day, Virat Kohli had carefully managed his way to 62 before falling lbw to Moeen Ali, showing what technique and application can achieve on a turning surface. We had also witnessed some superb glove work from Ben Foakes, whose electric reactions and exemplary technique in dismissing Sharma and Pant made him the first England wicket-keeper since Alan Knott to achieve three stumpings in a men's Test since Alan Knott in 1968.
India's 286 had set up an eye-watering and improbable target of 482 for England to win.
For seasoned England watchers, the script for the rest of the day was all too familiar, although initially it seemed like that might not be so. Sibley looked wooden but stoic, seeing off 25 balls without too much alarm, until an attempted push to leg had him trapped bang in front by Axar Patel. Rory Burns was tidy in getting to 25, but closed his bat face eyeing up leg and edged Ashwin to the gleeful Kohli.
As the clocked ticked down, in a bid to allow captain Root rest and recuperation, England despatched Headingley hero Jack Leach to the front, with orders not to return until the close of play. There was no time for the famous glasses' cloth to demist the steely Leach specs this time though, as his tentative prod at a fullish Patel grenade looped straight to Rohit Sharma at leg slip off his very first ball.
There were no thoughts of a second nightwatchman as Joe Root put himself into the firing line and saw the day out with Dan Lawrence, who demonstrated to the watching public just why he is known as "Legside Larry", advancing down the pitch to twice whip Patel over mid-wicket from balls a foot outside off.
Three wickets down, England still need 429 to win. They need surpass the West Indies record of 418 for seven and of course the Chennai record of 387 for four set by India against England in 2008.
Common sense suggests England have only pride to play for and they will want to rebuild some confidence ahead of the much-awaited Ahmedabad day/nighter. While attack may seem the best form of defence on a surface whose treachery reveals itself most nakedly when Ashwin has the ball in his hand, it would do those in at present and those yet to come the world of good to spend some time at the crease, learning to play in Indian conditions as they go. They may not master the pitch, but they will be keen to show they can compete on a wicket that India have compiled 615 runs on.
Ravi record watch
- Taking 10 wickets and making a century in a Test has happened only three times – Shakib, Imran, Botham. Ravi currently has six wickets in this match.
- Most Test 100s batting at No 8 or lower: Daniel Vettori 5, R. Ashwin, 3 Kamran Akmal 3, Jason Holder 3