Rishabh Pant did his thing, and so did Cheteshwar Pujara, but day three of the opening Test between India and England belonged to Dominic Bess. The offspinner scalped four wickets to put England in a commanding position in Chennai on Sunday (February 7). After the visiting side amassed 578 in their first innings, the Indian batsmen failed to make full use of the slow surface and allowed Bess and Co. to dictate terms.
It was Jofra Archer who bowled with great intensity in his first spell and got rid of the Indian openers in quick succession. And, that's when Bess took over and broke the back of India's batting line-up by dismissing Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane in the space of two overs. Bess was "lucky" with a couple of dismissals, including the one of Pujara (73). India's number three, along with Pant (91), put on 119 runs for the fifth wicket but couldn't convert it into a massive partnership. India were 257/6 in 74 overs, still trailing by 321 runs, when stumps were drawn on day three.
ARCHER, BESS MAKE EARLY INROADS
It was time for India to make the most of this pitch. Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill, who looked impressive as an opening pair in Australia, had a huge task ahead of them and the two started on a positive note. Gill, who recently made his Test debut Down Under, announced his arrival by slapping Archer through mid-wicket and followed it up with a superb checked on-drive off James Anderson. The surface was perfect for Rohit to get a big score, but the right-hander was undone by Archer's pace.
Anderson looked a bit ordinary with the new ball, but Archer took the pitch out of the equation. The paceman got one to nip away a bit from short of a length and Rohit (6) for some reason poked at it and ended up nicking it to the wicketkeeper. Gill, however, looked unfazed and didn't shy away from pouncing on every bad delivery. The stylish right-hander played a couple of glorious flicks and was in complete control of his innings, before he threw his wicket away.
Archer was fiery in his first spell, but the delivery with which he got rid of Gill was a freebie. The young opener was motoring at a solid pace but got slightly carried away and hit a half-volley in the air towards mid-on, where Anderson took a good diving catch. Gill slammed five fours in his 28-ball 29 but couldn't convert it into something substantial. Archer was always going to be a threat and the paceman managed to extract some movement and bounce off a dead track.
While the Indian openers looked in a bit of a hurry, Pujara and Kohli were very patient. The two, however, didn't put any pressure on Bess and allowed him to get into a nice rhythm. The offspinner was allowed to dictate terms and he eventually ended up getting the big wicket of Kohli. The right-hander scored just 11 off 48 balls and was caught at short leg while trying to defend a delivery pitched way outside off. Before the dust had settled, Rahane (1) was caught brilliantly by Joe Root at short cover. The Indian vice-captain tried to take on Bess but lost his shape and hit a full-toss towards the cover region where Root dived to his left and took a stunner.
PUJARA, PANT AT IT AGAIN
The pressure was on India, but you would expect Pant to play his shots and that's exactly what he did. The wicketkeeper-batsman announced his arrival by slamming Archer for back-to-back boundaries and then went berserk against Leach. The left-arm spinner was trying to hit the rough, but Pant was having none of it. The left-hander smoked Leach for four sixes in the space of three overs and didn't let him settle in.
While Pant was being Pant, Pujara did his thing at the other end. The latter got to his fifty with a drive through the covers, while Pant hit Leach down the ground for a boundary in the same over and completed his half-century off just 41 deliveries. Pant was ultra aggressive, but there was a method to his madness. He played those risky shots against Leach but was pretty watchful against the other bowlers. The two have batted well with each other in recent times. The duo put on crucial partnerships in Sydney and Brisbane, with this one being their fourth consecutive 50-plus stand.
Just when England were starting to run out of options, Pujara was dismissed in an unusual and unfortunate fashion. The right-hander from Saurashtra middled the pull shot off Bess but ended up hitting the man at short leg who was ducking for cover. The ball rebounded of his left shoulder and went straight into the hands of the fielder at mid-wicket. Pujara (73) looked gutted, but there was nothing he could have done about that. Pant, however, kept the attack going, but if you live by the sword, you probably die by it as well. The left-hander finally mistimed a heave and was caught at deep cover. The 23-year-old smashed nine fours and five maximums before becoming Bess' fourth victim.
Root didn't bring back Archer for some reason and that made Washington Sundar and Ashwin's lives slightly easier. The two easily played out Bess, Leach and Ben Stokes and were well settled by the time Archer was reintroduced into the attack, just for an over before the end of day's play. Sundar (33*) and Ashwin (8*) have looked comfortable so far and will want to bat as long as possible.
Earlier, Bess (34) and Leach (14*) did well to keep India waiting. The two put on 42 vital runs for the ninth wicket before India finally took the third new ball (25.2 overs after it was available) and broke the partnership. It was Jasprit Bumrah who gave India the breakthrough as he beat Bess for pace and pinned him right in front of the stumps. Ashwin then knocked over James Anderson (1) to finally wrap things up.
Bumrah and Ashwin finished with three wickets each, while Ishant Sharma and Shahbaz Nadeem took two wickets apiece. Ashwin ended up bowling 55.1 overs, the most he has bowled in an innings. Meanwhile, the two fast bowlers bowled their hearts out despite getting no assistance off the surface.