Familiar roadblock stalls English charge

India's star allrounder again proving a thorn in the tourists' side in Mohali

Australian spin great Shane Warne once spoke of having nightmares about Sachin Tendulkar after the Indian batting star smashed leg-spinner on a tour of the subcontinent.

Alastair Cook's England will probably feel the same way about Ravichandran Ashwin, who has left the tourists tearing at their hair in frustration with gritty batting and bowling displays in the ongoing series.

The off-spinner had put India 1-0 ahead in the five-match series with an eight-wicket haul in the second Test at Visakhapatnam after the first game in Rajkot was drawn.

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During the gripping second day's play of the third Test in Mohali on Sunday, Ashwin steered the hosts out of harm's way with an unbeaten half-century after England threatened to take control.

India, replying to England's first-innings total of 283, were coasting merrily at 2-148 when a dramatic collapse in the post-tea session saw three wickets tumble for eight runs in 19 deliveries.

When skipper Virat Kohli was sixth out, caught behind off Ben Stokes for 62, the hosts had slipped to 6-204, still 79 runs behind with more than an hour's play remaining in the day.

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But Ashwin and spin twin Ravindra Jadeja stepped in to calm India's nerves with an unbroken stand of 67 which lifted the hosts to 6-271 by stumps at the Punjab Cricket Association stadium.

Ashwin returned unbeaten on 57 and Jadeja was on 31, the pair having set the stage for a fascinating contest ahead on a pitch that has surprisingly played true so far despite the usual wear and tear.

It was Ashwin's third half-century in the series, having made 70 and 32 in Rajkot and 58 and 7 in Visakhapatnam.

"Ashwin is proving to be bit of a pain, a thorn in their side," admitted England's legendary allrounder Ian Botham.

"He is a complete allrounder. He did not make much of an impression when I watched him in the past, but credit to him to have advanced so quickly."

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Indian batting great Sunil Gavaskar credited Kohli and coach Anil Kumble for showing faith in Ashwin's batting capabilities by promoting him to number six in the order.

"He has repaid that faith," said Gavaskar. "I am not surprised at all. He started out as an opener in his younger days, so he has a fair idea of what batting is all about."

Botham said England were still very much in the Test despite throwing away the initial advantage of winning the toss and being bowled out for under 300 in the first innings.

"We have a real game on our hands," he said. "India have to bat last and the wicket will continue to worsen as the game goes on."

Cheteshwar Pujara, who triggered the collapse by holing out in the deep off Adil Rashid after making 51, said Ashwin and Jadeja had given the home team the edge.

"We have recovered very well," he said. "The advantage is with us because both allrounders are still at the crease.

"The first session is obviously very important tomorrow. We are hoping to get a lead of 75-100 runs. But if both of them continue to bat the way they have done so far, that lead could be even bigger."

India have been served well by a bowling line-up that can be counted to deliver important runs. No.11 Mohammad Shami is the only one in the current side who has not scored a first-class century.

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Ashwin, the number one Test bowler and the top-ranked allrounder, has hit four Test centuries and Jadeja has three 300-plus scores in first-class cricket to his credit.

Jayant Yadav, who comes in next at number nine, has scored a first-class double century and number 10 Umesh Yadav has a best of 128 not out in first-class matches.

"The lower order has done well in recent games and we are confident they will continue the same way," said Pujara.

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Meg Lanning Steve Smith