England leave India with a Herculean task at hand

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08 Feb 2021 | 03:13 AM
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Hardik Worah

England leave India with a Herculean task at hand

The hosts have already lost Rohit and are chasing 420 on a tricky Chepauk surface

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England need nine wickets | India need 381 runs

"If we get a good start tomorrow, I'm sure we can chase this down. We have a fearless batting line-up, and we're very positive about this," said Ishant Sharma after becoming the sixth Indian bowler to take 300 Test wickets. 

Wait, 381 on a tricky day-five surface at the Chepauk? Surely not, right? But again, we have already seen two unbelievable chases this year and you can't rule out the possibility of India replicating what they did at the Gabba in January, or at this very same venue against the same opponent in 2008. However, as things stand, England are still in the driver's seat despite their negative approach in the final session of day four of the opening Test on Monday (February 8). 

Earlier, Washington Sundar (138-ball 85*) played yet another impressive knock but England still managed to bundle India out for 337 in their first innings. As expected, England didn't enforce the follow-on despite taking a massive lead of 241. Joe Root and Co. started the second innings on a positive note but the fear of unlikely defeat forced them into a defensive mode in the last session. Ashwin claimed six wickets as England were bowled out for 178. 

The Indian openers had to survive a tricky phase of 50 minutes and Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill started well. The former was watchful against Jofra Archer in his first two overs but stamped his authority by slapping him for a six over deep square leg. The right-hander from Mumbai however couldn't carry on and was knocked over by Jack Leach for 12. The left-arm spinner got one to turn away and Rohit ended up playing down the wrong line. Meanwhile, Gill got the ball rolling by crafting Leach for three boundaries and has looked solid so far.

India were 39/1 in 13 overs when the stumps were drawn on day four, with Gill and Cheteshwar Pujara unbeaten on 15 and 12 respectively. The two have a huge task ahead but if they could boss the first session, you never know. There is turn and a bit of uneven bounce but by no means it's a minefield, so India are not completely out of the game.

WASHINGTON CONTINUES TO IMPRESS

Earlier, the onus was on Washington and Ashwin to bat as long as possible. England still had six overs left before the new ball was available and the two batsmen from Tamil Nadu faced very little trouble in negotiating Dominic Bess and Leach. Washington hit the ground running by slamming Bess for consecutive boundaries, while Ashwin blocked and blocked and blocked before unexpectedly running down the track and smoking Bess for a maximum over long-on. Bess, who scalped four wickets on day three, was inconsistent in his first spell on the penultimate day.

Washington in particular pounced on every bad delivery and brought up his second Test fifty with an authoritative drive off Leach. The left-hander, who played two crucial knocks on his debut in Brisbane, looked very assured from the word go and also became the eighth Indian batsman to manage 50-plus scores in debut innings both home and away. Root brought back Archer and James Anderson once England took the new ball. The latter looked far from his best and was greeted with an eye-pleasing drive from Ashwin. Root didn't waste much time and got Leach into the attack and the hard ball did the trick for the left-arm spinner. 

Leach, who suffered a severe beating at the hands of Rishabh Pant on day three, got one to jump on Ashwin who played it with hard hands and was caught by the wicketkeeper. Ashwin scored 31 and added crucial 80 runs with Washington for the seventh wicket. Shahbaz Nadeem (0) too couldn't hang around and became Leach's second victim. Ishant brought up 1000 first-class runs with a sweep but was bounced out by Anderson. Washington was running out of partners and had no other option but to go after every bowler. The left-hander first lofted Anderson down the ground for a six and then slammed Root for 13 runs in an over. Washington, however, couldn't complete his century as Jasprit Bumrah was dismissed by Anderson for a duck.

ASHWIN SHOWS HIS CLASS

Rory Burns and Dominic Sibley had to survive two overs before the lunch break but Ashwin dismissed the former for a duck on the very first ball. Sibley, who consumed 286 deliveries for his 87 in the first innings, looked assured during his brief stay in the middle. That's when Ashwin came round the wicket and got one to straighten, inducing an inside edge off Sibley's bat that went straight to Pujara at leg slip. Lawrence (18) too couldn't convert his start into something substantial as he became Ishant's 300th Test victim. The right-arm seamer became only the third Indian seamer to take 300 wickets in the longest format of the game.

While the other batsmen were struggling, Root looked in complete control from the word go. Having slammed 218 in the first innings, the England captain wasted no time and took the attack to Nadeem and Ashwin. Root kept sweeping and reverse-sweeping both the finger spinners to put them under pressure. The visitors, however, kept losing wickets at the other end, with Ben Stokes (7) becoming Ashwin's third victim. The flamboyant all-rounder tried to be aggressive but was caught behind while playing an expensive drive. 

There were a few deliveries that kept low, while a couple just kicked off. Root raced to 40 off 32 deliveries before he got one from Bumrah that kept low and hit him on the back pad in front of off-stump. England lost wickets at regular intervals but kept the runs flowing. Pope chipped in with a 32-ball 28 before falling to Nadeem but after his departure, Buttler and Bess showed no signs of urgency. There were occasional boundaries but the two hardly showed any intent. Buttler scored 24 off 40 before he was stumped off Nadeem. Bess too batted 55 deliveries for his 25, as England kept delaying the declaration. Bess fell to Ashwin after England's lead went past 400. 

England were worried about the fact that India might have a go at the target. They probably wanted to make sure India don't get enough overs to do that. However, Ashwin knocked over Archer and completed his 28th five-wicket haul in Tests. The offspinner then sent back Anderson in the same over and finished with figures of 6/61.

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IndiaEnglandEngland tour of India, 2021Washington SundarRavichandran AshwinIshant SharmaJoseph Edward Root

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