India close to series win after Jurel and Ashwin turn tables on England | England in India 2024

One of the many enduring qualities of Test cricket and its five-day schedule is a team’s ability to mount a comeback. The third day in Ranchi is now one of the countless examples. India didn’t so much turn the tide as completely split the tide with a characterful lower-order rally and then a rousing display of spin bowling.

Ben Stokes and his England players had emerged from the team bus in a position of strength, their hosts trailing by 134 runs and with just three first innings wickets in hand. But as the tourists drew to a close, they returned to their hotel in a state of utter deflation, India already 40 runs to a paltry target of 192 and no wickets in the final column.

There was plenty to ponder as England’s heads hit the pillows, not least a dropped catch from Ollie Robinson that added 59 runs to wicketkeeper Dhruv Jurel’s tone-changing 90 in the morning. Even more elaborate was the ensuing dive with the bat, as England scored 145 after losing their last seven wickets for just 35 runs.

The only consolation was how Ravichandran Ashwin, five for 51, and Kuldeep Yadav, four for 22, had wreaked such havoc on the capricious, cracked surface. Whether a greenhorn attack can do the same on day four – even if Shoaib Bashir takes his first five-wicket haul – is another question.

A lot went back to the morning session, with Jurel and the tail end reducing the deficit to just 46 runs overnight. However, this was just the beginning before the main course as Rohit Sharma handed Ashwin the new ball after lunch and watched the 37-year-old deliver a brilliant, testing display of off-spinners and square-seam sliders.

It didn’t take long for the opening gun to sound – the fifth over to be exact – as Ashwin evaporated Ben Duckett and Ollie Pope within two balls. Duckett meekly pushed his way to short leg – contrary to his mantra that attack was the best form of defense – while Pope completed his first pair in Test cricket when he was pinned left-leg from straight leg. Despite all the advantages of his position at No. 3, he remains a frenetic starter.

But there was no doubt about which wicket Ashwin valued most in his 35th five-wicket bag, Joe Root stopped lbw for 11 after 36 minutes of defiance. It took a check from Sharma, but for all the shouting in the England dressing room that followed, Root was out. Hawk-Eye showed that around the wicket, Ashwin had bowled the ball just inside the superimposed line that runs from the outside of the off-stump. There is no referee call here.

Ravichandran Ashwin of India celebrates the dismissal of Joe Root. Photo: Gareth Copley/Getty Images

At the other end of the initial chaos of 19 for two and then 65 for three was Zak Crawley, who led the way with a princely 60 from 91 balls full of elan. It also took a clever plan to move him. Sharma opened up his preferred scoring zone and invited a drive when left-arm Kuldeep curled a sharp shot into the stumps.

Could others have followed Crawley’s example? It was a question Stokes may have asked himself at tea, as it was the fifth wicket to fall with 120 on the board, after a slightly tortured 13-ball four. Kuldeep, an enigma from that rare left-arm angle, was the man to strike here too, a marksman who would have seen his target had it not then rolled onto the stumps.

At this point, Jonny Bairstow was in relatively good form for 30, only to have Ravindra Jadeja covered to cover the first ball of the evening session. This forced Ben Foakes to field an open tail, which for all his ability as a wingman for the higher ups is still not his strong suit. Foakes could only muster 17 runs as India beat their partners, England’s wicketkeeper the second-to-last man out when Ashwin took a return catch.

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That poor finish also included the death of Kuldeep’s lbw third-ball Robinson in what was, all things considered, a pretty forgettable day for the seamer. During the cascade of wickets, his earlier drop from Jurel increased in magnitude. Stokes wasn’t exactly thrilled at this point and immediately banished Robinson from mid-wicket after Jurel’s clip of Bashir burst through his hands.

It just seemed so casual, much like the unthreatening four-over spell that started the day, hovering on the speed cannon in the mid-70s. Robinson’s number of no-balls on the front foot also rose to six in his first game since July and to 77 in his Test career overall – one more than his number of wickets. Even with 58 runs in the first dig, he remains a cause for frustration.

Kuldeep was similar for Stokes, with his longest first-class innings, 28 from 131 balls, one half of a 76-run eighth-wicket stand with Jurel before Anderson forced a drag-on. A game of cat and mouse soon followed, with the compact and correct Jurel going after his delay, beating Bashir for 24 off his next 16 balls.

At 20 years and 135 days, Bashir eventually became the second-youngest England bowler after Rehan Ahmed in 2022 to take five wickets when a slider pinned Akash deep lbw. Hartley soon ended the innings with his 19th wicket of the series, Jurel eventually bowled a beauty. But that final ball, which hit the batsman on the outside edge and bounced off the off-stump, only hinted at the chaos that was to follow.

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