It will take some extreme weather blowing in from the Bay of Bengal for England to leave Chennai with their 1-0 lead still intact following a second day of the second Test during which they registered their lowest first‑innings total in India.
By stumps India’s second innings was well under way with their score 54 for one and a lead that had swollen to 249 runs.
This vice-like grip was achieved by the wizardry of Ravichandran Ashwin, whose 29th five-wicket haul had earlier rolled England to the tune of 134 all out. Fifteen batsmen had fallen over the course of three sessions and the game had moved on significantly.
Ben Foakes stood tall among the English rubble, bouncing on from an immaculate first innings with the gloves by chiselling out a determined unbeaten 42 from 107 balls. But his handsome return to the XI aside, the tourists suffered a heavy comedown from their victory on the same ground last week as Ashwin and the pitch preyed on scrambled minds.
The surface has become a big talking point during the first two days but it has become harder to claim the toss was all-important, certainly when considering the first Test. It has spun sharply from the outset, balls bursting through the black topsoil, and yet there has been a degree of consistency at least. Once the ball is softer, things have eased up a touch too. Foakes showed it was not impossible.
It may well end up being rated as “poor” for what is a five-day sport but the two attacks have differed hugely in their use of it. And while India clearly gambled on their spinners outperforming Joe Root’s, it is worth noting the 1,042 deliveries sent down so far is more than during recent England victories against Sri Lanka at Headingley in 2016 (976) and India at Lord’s in 2018 (1,023).
England struggled to control the rate during India’s 329 all out here.
Rohit Sharma’s 161 is already shaping up as the match-winning performance, while India’s bowlers were impeccable. Runs on the board only go so far to explain this, with Ashwin in particular relentless in his probing of defences, using all the variety and changes of pace that emerge from his cocktail-shaking finger spin.
Three wickets fell to seam, Ishant Sharma pinning Rory Burns lbw third ball for his second duck of the series and having Jack Leach caught behind to a second stunning effort from Rishabh Pant. The first came when Ollie Pope glanced Mohammed Siraj’s first delivery on home soil down leg, Pant flying to his left, snaring the ball in the webbing of his glove and juggling successfully.
Pope had been the first to offer some semblance of resistance, making a busy 22 from 57 balls as he and his Surrey colleague, Foakes, stemmed the cascade of wickets. But his demise in the afternoon to Siraj’s loosener left England 87 for six and already looking towards the (currently clear) forecast.
Virat Kohli also made good use of the crowd’s return (if not the review system that saw him burn all three). He kept whistling to hype up the fans – a nod to when Chennai Super Kings play at home – and with the ever-chuntering Pant it created an intensity that was absent when the stands were empty last week.
Kohli also had a telling local resource in Ashwin, whose two wickets in the morning left England at 39 for four at lunch. Having profited from a duffed sweep by Dom Sibley on 16 that popped to leg slip off the back of the bat, he capped off the session by delaying his final ball to Dan Lawrence, ramping up the pressure on the young right-hander and teasing an inside edge to short leg.
The pitch was largely irrelevant for the pick of Ashwin’s scalps too, beating Ben Stokes through the air after the break with a beauty, bowled for 18, to see Kohli’s audience once more in raptures. But the one that sent the greatest shockwaves through the England camp was Root’s earlier demise for just six.
The sweep shot has been Root’s best friend during a remarkable run of form this winter. Here, on a more capricious surface than during his 218 last week, it sent a top edge to short fine leg to give the debutant left-arm spinner Axar Patel his maiden Test wicket amid figures of two for 40 from 20 overs.
When Ashwin polished off the tail, Stuart Broad bowled on the sweep second ball to end 59.5 largely one‑sided overs, he became the first bowler to dismiss 200 left-handers in Test cricket and finished with figures of five for 43. Only Muttiah Muralitharan (45), Rangana Herath (26) and Anil Kumble (25) boast more than his current 23 five‑wicket hauls on home soil.
During the morning session England wrapped up India’s first innings without conceding an extra in the 95.5 overs; a record by way of runs shipped (329) and a feather in the cap of Foakes. Pant was left unbeaten on 58, with the impressively hostile Olly Stone finishing with three for 47.
Moeen Ali, whose four for a costly 128 included a smart stumping by Foakes first thing, had far greater control in the final hour of the day and was left aggrieved when Rohit Sharma padded up to one on 21. The on-field umpire declined England’s appeal for lbw, judging a shot to have been played, and with that key detail sacrosanct Root’s subsequent review was in vain.
Leach did trap Shubman Gill lbw for 14 and saw another such appeal off Rohit Sharma struck down on review due to an inside edge. Come the close the opener walked off unbeaten on 25 with Cheteshwar Pujara for company, the pair earning slaps on the back from Kohli upon reaching the boundary’s edge.