England started the day with an aim of getting well ahead in the game. A big first innings score almost always guarantees a side of avoiding defeat. Joe Root’s ton yesterday, along with Moeen Ali’s unbeaten 99 had set up the platform for one such big score. It was imperative to capitalise on the start they’d got and on day two, it was Ben Stokes (128) who answered the call with his fourth Test ton that took England to a massive 537. Moeen Ali too added a run early to his overnight score and registered his first ton against India but the day, undoubtedly, belonged to Stokes.
Unlike the first day though, where Root and Ali batted with a lot of assurance, Stokes’ innings was replete with chances put down. India had been rusty on the field even on the first day, dropping crucial catches, and it became worse on the second with regulation catches being missed and a host of edges not going to hand. The pitch began to show signs of deteriorating early on the second day with all three spinners – R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Amit Mishra – getting appreciable turn. But this time around, England had the leeway and scoreboard confidence to keep attacking the spinners. This job was done well by both Stokes and Jonny Bairstow (46), who added 99 runs for the sixth wicket off just 127 deliveries.
India ended up conceding 129 runs in just the first session. Ali had got to his ton in just the first over but was soon undone, shouldering arms to a delivery angling in from round the wicket from Mohammed Shami. Stokes had a singular job to do and that was to push the score along and hammer in the final nails. He did it by sweeping Ashwin across the line, lofting Jadeja straight down the ground and regularly finding the boundaries with ease.
India’s best wicket-taking option, once again, seemed to be Umesh Yadav with his reverse swing. India had taken the new ball straightaway on the second day but Yadav wasn’t penetrative enough then. When the ball was older though, he operated with a set plan against Stokes. The offside was packed with catchers starting with a wide slip, a gully, a shortish cover-point and a short extra cover. The man at cover was placed halway to the boundary. England by now were targeting a total in excess of 500, and were on the bid to score quick runs.
Yadav was offering Stokes more width than usual, hoping that he would take the bait. Stokes bit, edged twice in consecutive overs, but both times Wriddhiman Saha failed to complete the last part of the plan. Both catches went to his left, he went with only his left hand the first time and then went with both hands, but to no avail. Stokes was on 60 and 61 at that point and would go on to complete his ton later in the day, with the tail for company. A total that could have been just over 400 stretched beyond 500.
Stokes had a full license to keep going the same way though. He continued to try and loft the spinners against the spin but was lucky to see the ball landing beyond despairing dives or between converging fielders each time. India have rarely been as frustrated at home as they were on the field on Thursday (November 10). Stokes was being given good company by Bairstow who found the gaps with relative ease as the spinners were reduced to a sideshow. Ashwin could not offer Kohli any control, Mishra was guilty of giving away loose full tosses while Jadeja, introduced rather late, was taken on straightaway by the England batsmen.
The chancy yet fully effective ton from Stokes increasingly caused India’s fielders to turn on each other. Every misfield was followed by long glares from the captain as England went on to register their third highest score in India. This was also the first time, since 1961, that three England batsmen scored a hundred in the same innings in India. Stokes went on to add 52 for the ninth wicket with Zafar Ansari, allowing the track to wear down further and was ninth man to be dismissed, with Yadav finally getting a wicket he deserved as Saha held onto a catch down the leg side. Twenty runs later, the innings ended with Ansari being trapped LBW by Amit Mishra and coupled with the Tea break as well.
India’s openers had a difficult task on hand. Since 2012, no visiting team had scored over 500 in an innings in India. This scoreboard pressure was going to be something new for the hosts but Gautam Gambhir and Murali Vijay did not allow it to show. The duo put on their first fifty-plus partnership in Tests even as the ball started to do more things off the pitch than has been usual. Puffs of dust flew off the surface, the ball kept low occasionally but both batsmen survived without being hassled.
India went into stumps at 63 for 0 but will definitely be wary of how much more they can get on a pitch that promises to make run-making progressively more difficult.
Brief scores: England 537 (Ben Stokes 128, Joe Root 124, Moeen Ali 117; Ravindra Jadeja 3-86) lead India 63/0 (Gautam Gambhir 28*, Murali Vijay 25*) by 474 runs.