But defeat (or divine intervention) will come much later than what most of the estimated 35,000 at Eden Gardens would have expected on Saturday afternoon. Having begun their second innings 207 behind Eng land, India were 158 for 8 with 28.3 overs still left in the day. Ishant Sharma had just walked in to join Ravichandran Ashwin, batting on 21.
At the close of play, India had lost Ishant, but they had taken a 32-run lead and denied England the extra half hour given to teams judged by the umpires to be on the brink of victory. These were the crumbs of comfort for a team on the verge of losing two home Tests in a row for the first time since 2000.
Ashwin ended the day on 83, after taking a single off the last ball. He had used this ploy to farm the strike expertly in the unbroken last-wicket stand of 42 with Pragyan Ojha. Ojha had contributed just 3 to the partnership, and faced only one ball in the day’s last three overs.
In between, even with the boundaries heavily guarded, Ashwin had found ways to hit seven fours in the 10.3 overs he spent in Ojha’s company. In all, he had found the rope 13 times, mostly with orthodox cricket shots. This was his second half-century of the series — the other being the important 68 on Day 1 in Mumbai.
Now in the 11th Test of his career, Ashwin has three fifties and a hundred, and he ended Saturday with an average of exactly 43. He has scored runs both at home and in Australia, quite often in adversity, and has been dismissed only twice for single-digit scores. In the ongoing series, he has scored more runs than Virat Kohli, Sachin Tendulkar, Yuvraj Singh and M S Dhoni, and is currently averaging behind only Cheteshwar Pujara.
On Twitter, this tongue-in-cheek comment quickly went viral: “If Ashwin could bowl, he’d be a decent allrounder.” That seemed harsh, considering Ashwin has just equaled Jack Gregory and Ian Botham as the fastest ever to 500 runs and 50 wickets in Tests.
But it did contain a grain of truth. In this series, Ashwin has taken just nine wickets at an average of 60.11. His ineffectiveness on a helpful track in Mumbai and in England’s first innings here has contributed significantly towards India being on the verge of going 1-2 behind in the series.