Two moments of brilliance in the field dragged England back into the equation on day two of the third Test against India.
After adding 15 runs to their overnight 268 for eight, the tourists’ 283 all out was beginning to seem woefully under par in Mohali when Virat Kohli (62) and Cheteshwar Pujara (51) were sharing an ominous third-wicket stand of 75 to take the hosts to 148 for two.
But immediately after tea Chris Woakes pulled off a wonderful diving catch to cut Pujara off in his prime when he smashed an Adil Rashid long-hop to deep midwicket.
Then an even more memorable piece of fielding from Jos Buttler – a diving stop at point from Kohli’s square-drive, and direct-hit with an off-balance throw – ran out the luckless debutant Karun Nair.
In between, Rashid (three for 81) took his series wicket haul to 16 when he had Ajinkya Rahane lbw for a duck, missing a googly on the front-foot defence and suddenly, despite recovering to 271 for six at stumps, India were no longer assured of a substantial first-innings lead.
Three wickets had fallen for eight runs and Rashid had already surpassed the great Shane Warne’s best series haul in India.
Ben Stokes took the prize wicket of Kohli, caught-behind trying to guide some runs into a packed off-side field. There must have been an element of extra personal satisfaction for Stokes, who had paid with an International Cricket Council reprimand and demerit point for his reaction the previous day in a verbal spat with Kohli after he was stumped.
A hobbling Ravi Ashwin (57no) then took toll of a tiring attack to reach his half-century in just 77 balls, however, as he combined with Ravindra Jadeja in an unbroken stand of 67 in what had become an intriguingly tight contest.
Rashid, a revelation for Alastair Cook’s side in India, appears to have benefited substantially from the tutelage of England’s temporary spin consultant Saqlain Mushtaq over the past few weeks.
“I’ve obviously been working hard in the nets, on some technical things – working out batsmen, field placings,” said the leg spinner. “It’s also [about] being really confident, having that belief you can get the best players in the world out. Things sometimes go your way, sometimes they don’t. At the moment, it’s going very well so far.”
Despite Ashwin and Jadeja’s unbroken partnership, Rashid added: “We’d take 270 for six at the beginning of the day. I thought we bowled exceptionally well there as a team. Yes, they got a little partnership but that happens in cricket. We hope we can come back and knock ‘em over.”
Pujara, unsuprisingly, saw things differently. “I’d say we’ve recovered really well,” he said. “We have an advantage, because both our all-rounders are in. The first session will be crucial for us. We’ll be looking to get a lead of somewhere around 75 to 100 runs. They can both bat, and so can Jayant Yadav. Our lower order has been contributing in all the Test matches, so we expect that to continue.”
He and Kohli more than doubled India’s total in their earlier stand of 75, which was hard work at times as England tried to dry up the runs. “I would say we weren’t struggling,” added Pujara. “The lines they were bowling, I thought it was a little negative.”