England face fight to save series as spinners put India in command

By Sports Desk February 25, 2024

England succumbed to their trial by spin as India were left 192 to win the fourth Test and the series following Ravichandran Ashwin’s five-wicket haul.

After India turned an overnight 219 for seven into 307 all out, whittling a first-innings deficit down to 46, Ashwin’s five for 51 and Kuldeep Yadav’s four for 22 led to England being skittled for 145.

Zak Crawley top-scored with 60, but his dismissal marked the start of England’s collapse from 110 for three on the third afternoon on a pitch offering significant turn and uneven bounce.

England, trailing 2-1 in the five-match series, were unable to make a breakthrough in the last half hour as they try to force a decider in Dharamshala next month, with India closing on 40 without loss.

Joe Root and Tom Hartley shared the new ball and Shoaib Bashir, who earlier became the second youngest English men’s bowler to take a Test five-wicket haul in just his eighth first-class appearance, had an over and it is likely the trio will have plenty of work to do to prevent an England defeat on day four.

The tourists are not out of it, but may end up ruing Ollie Robinson dropping Dhruv Jurel on 59, with the wicketkeeper making 90 to lead India’s recovery from 177 for seven the previous evening.

There was more DRS controversy as Joe Root was given lbw on review, with former England captain Michael Vaughan suggesting on social media enough of Ashwin’s delivery had pitched outside leg-stump.

But England’s batters were outfoxed by India’s vaunted spinners, with Rohit Sharma turning immediately to Ashwin in the second innings despite an underwhelming series beforehand, averaging nearly 39.

Ashwin, though, is a master of these conditions and bagged his 350th and 351st Test wickets in India from successive deliveries to set the hares running.

Ben Duckett was first persuaded into a defensive push to short-leg on 15 then Ollie Pope got into a tangle as he misjudged the length and was leg-before for a golden duck and a three-ball pair in the Test.

Crawley negotiated the hat-trick ball and settled into some rhythm with three cover drives for four in four deliveries when India’s premier spinner over-pitched, but a blossoming stand with Root ended on 46 when the Yorkshireman missed a flick after helping to stretch England’s lead to three figures.

There was some suspicion most of Ashwin’s delivery from round the wicket had landed outside leg, but India’s review returned three reds and first-innings centurion Root was on his way for 11, despite scepticism on social media about the result technology returned.

Jonny Bairstow was punchy early on and Crawley moved to a third fifty of the series, but India still had one more trump card in Kuldeep, who followed up an obdurate 28 off 131 balls by ransacking England’s batting.

Crawley’s fourth ball against the left-arm wrist-spinner turned lavishly through the gate and clattered middle stump, while Ben Stokes made a chancy four off 13 balls before meeting the same fate.

Stokes was first struck on the back leg by a scuttler and initially seemed oblivious as to why India were celebrating but threw his head back and grinned wryly after turning round and seeing the bails on the ground.

When Bairstow tamely punched the first ball after tea to cover off Ravindra Jadeja to depart for 30, England had lost three wickets for 10 runs in 31 balls, leaving Ben Foakes to bat with the bowlers.

Robinson’s dismal day continued as he was twice struck on the pad by Kuldeep, overturning one lbw verdict but not the other and out for a three-ball duck, before Foakes and Bashir dug in.

The pair put on 12 in 74 balls, but Foakes chipped back to Ashwin, who had his first five-for of the series when James Anderson got a tickle to a reverse sweep.

Bashir earlier bagged the one scalp he needed for a first five-wicket haul in any form of professional cricket in just his second Test after snaring Akash Deep and the 20-year-old should have accounted for Jurel, only for the ball to burst through Robinson’s hands at midwicket.

Tom Hartley gave an indication of what was to come by turning one sharply past Jurel’s bat and castling him on the stroke of lunch, but England had allowed India to add a princely 130 for the last three wickets.

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