Spinners turn India's fortunes

Two sessions of a spin cycle saw England reduced to a bunch of confused toddlers. They have felt the choke of days as smothering in India before but this was different.
Last Updated 25 February 2024, 21:13 IST

Ranchi: On the morning of the third day of the fourth Test, there was little reason to believe that India would have a chance of winning the Test to establish an unassailable 3-1 lead in the five-match series.  

England had out-batted them en route a Joe Root-crafted 353, and it looked like they had out-bowled them as well, reducing them to 219 for 7 at stumps on the third day. 

The first hour and some in Ranchi have been perfect for a cuppa, but hardly the place you would want to bat at. These were trying circumstances, but Dhruv Jurel’s ability to stay calm and stitch partnerships meant India were able to get to 307. 

It was more than England would have liked to leak, but they had handy 46-run lead, and momentum as a batting unit from the first innings. Right? Wrong. 

Two sessions of a spin cycle saw England reduced to a bunch of confused toddlers. They have felt the choke of days as smothering in India before but this was different. 

From the moment they broke up the huddle, you could tell there was a focus which had alluded them in the first innings. 

The plan was to start with R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja with the new ball while setting up aggressive fields. Just like that the hosts went from docile to hostile. The same animal had become a different beast. 

Ashwin (5/51) picked up his 35th fifer by using the square seam to perfection. Jadeja ended with just the one wicket but gave away only 56 runs from 20 overs. Mohammed Siraj bowled three overs and then spent the rest of the time in the deep and Akash Deep didn't even get to bowl. Kuldeep Yadav (4/22) bagged two crucial wickets in the four he finished the day with.

India bowled England out for 145 in 53.5 overs with around 30 minutes left on the third day.  

Rohit Sharma and Yashavi Jaiswal remained unconquered and took India to 40 in 8 overs, meaning the hosts need 152 runs to win here and make Dharamsala a mere formality. 

Still, it would be prudent to remain equanimous in the face of what could well be an Indian victory because this pitch is quite the doozy. 

It’s turning big from the strange semi-circle of wide cracks on a length, straightening from bald spots, staying low often and kicking up occasionally.

It’s the kind of pitch spinners would salivate for on the fourth day. England have two full-time spinners in Shoaib Bashir and Tom Hartley, and a rather good part-timer in Root. 

Bashir showed that he could be a handful after picking up his maiden fifer earlier on the day, but the rest need to get into it for England to make their luck. 

Speaking of which, one cannot ignore the fact that India enjoyed a decent share of fortune when it came to Umpire’s Call, more than they did the days prior at least. 

It did come in handy for England too, especially in the case of Ben Stokes because he survived a close one, and had the powers that be employed what he had suggested (the removal of Umpire’s Call) only a few days ago, he would have been out earlier. 

Well, it didn’t matter in the end because Kuldeep got him bowled, and as the England skipper threw his head back in dismay, he would have known that England’s brightest chance was entering its darkest night.

(Published 25 February 2024, 21:13 IST)

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