Not like science and art have never come together in cricket. Ravichandran Ashwin is primarily a bowler, and possibly India's best bet with the cherry if they have any chance of winning the first Test against England at the Saurashtra Cricket Association Stadium in Rajkot. However, with the willow in hand, he showed traits of an artist, touching the ball like a painter and piercing gaps like a surgeon.
A mere glance at the scorecard on Saturday (November 12) might not say much about his half-century, given that there have already been five centuries recorded in the two innings so far. But in the context of the match, his knock remains as important as any, and possibly, more important than even a few centurions. Ashwin eventually got out for 70 when he holed out to Zafar Ansari at deep midwicket. India were bundled out for 488, conceding a 49-run lead in six sessions, as opposed to England's five. Tea was taken as 77 runs were added in the second session for the loss of four wickets.
India began the proceedings slowly after Lunch. After having shown good application against the spinners in the previous session, Wriddhiman Saha and Ashwin took time in the middle to get a hang of the challenges of the pitch all over again. They did that well in the initial period, before a delivery from Moeen Ali spun and rose sharply. Saha, looking to cut it, was cramped for room and got an edge to the wicketkeeper. His dismissal ended the 64-run stand which had revived India's innings after two early dismissals in the day.
With the ball getting older, the field was spread while the pacers were in operation. Ashwin, meanwhile, concentrated hard and kept working the ball around in the field. Ravindra Jadeja, who boasts of a Bradmanesque record in Rajkot, and the Saurashtra Cricket Association Stadium in specific, looked in troubled waters. He failed to connect the ball well and mostly remained defensive in his approach.
Eventually, steep bounce off the wicket proved to be the left-hander's undoing. Adil Rashid's delivery bounced chest-high after pitching on good length. Jadeja's frontfoot defense proved counter-productive as the ball got the shoulder of the bat and lobbed to the fielder at forward short-leg. For all the hometown legacy, much unlike teammate Cheteshwar Pujara, Jadeja's glory included one six, but lasted for just over half and hour.
Umesh Yadav came out with a singular approach of hitting the bowlers out of the park. Not surprisingly, he didn't last long. After slogging Rashid's googly for a boundary, he fell two overs later when he attempted a similar shot to a legbreak. He got the top edge of the bat and Ben Stokes took a good catch, diving forward, coming in from short cover.
Still 88 runs behind England's first innings total at that point of time, it became a matter of time before India's innings would fold. Either with an unplayable delivery or by a rash shot from Mohammed Shami. While the latter was minimised with Ashwin preferring to keep strike, the former just happened, when Stuart Broad induced the outside edge of Shami's bat. The ball went straight to Alastair Cook at first slip, but the England captain let down a catch as easy as it could have come. At that stage, Ashwin was unbeaten on 49 and India was trailing by 77 runs. Broad was visibly annoyed, and Cook dejected. India got to extend their stay, and both the lower-order batsmen ensured that they made the most of it.
There were edges running for boundaries, some masterfully directed shots in the gaps and easy singles on offer. When Shami got the strike, he attempted to send the balls outside the park. He succeeded once and gave company to Ashwin till the end.
Brief scores: England 537 (Ben Stokes 128, Joe Root 124, Moeen Ali 117; Ravindra Jadeja 3-86) lead India 488 (Murali Vijay 126, Cheteshwar Pujara 124; Adil Rashid 4-114, Zafar Ansari 2-77) by 49 runs.