When India got the wicket of Ben Stokes in the third over of the day — amid controversial circumstances, thanks to a stand-in third umpire — it seemed as if they will wrestle back the momentum created by Keaton Jennings’ brilliant century on day one. Ravichandran Ashwin had his 23rd career five-for. England had slid from 230/2 to 296/7. The sixth wicket partnership, which has been prolific for England throughout 2016, was broken. Jos Buttler, who looked like a fish out of water on a dusty Wankhede pitch in the final session on day one, was left fending with the tail.
It seemed like India will boss around England once again.
But an old foe of Indian bowlers came back to haunt them — the inability to clean-up the tail. Jake Ball, playing just his second Test, put on 54 runs for the ninth wicket with Buttler. Instead of wrapping up the innings before lunch, Ashwin and Co were made to work hard. The Indian bowlers had to bowl 35 overs to get the last three wickets as England reached the magic 400 mark.
The sentiment then was that India were letting England run away with the game. On a pitch where Ashwin and Jadeja were getting the ball to do unspeakable things on a fairly regular basis, letting England wag their tail seemed like a costly error for Virat Kohli. His defensive field-placements came in for criticism again.
But by the end of the day, Murali Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara had put together an unbroken 107-run partnership — the highest partnership of the match so far — to bring India back into the game.
The day’s play was marked by a constant undercurrent of the difficulty in reading the pitch and the situation of the game. When everyone thought, India were on top with Stokes dismissal, England ran away with the game for a while. KL Rahul’s dismissal was one that could have sent some shivers in the Indian camp — Moeen Ali got one to turn square and bounce from a full length.
Rahul’s dismissal also highlighted another problem for India — their opening partnership. In the last 14 innings, the opening pair have put up 14, 12, 4, 3, 2, 0, 0, 9, 80*, 50, 8, 30, 4 and 39 today. That’s just three partnerships above 30 in the past year. While the lack of a consistent opening partnership could be part of the problem, it still does not make for a good reading for Kohli.
So when it seemed the Indian batsmen could struggle on a dangerous-looking pitch, Pujara and Vijay blunted the Ali-Rashid combination with sufficient ease.
Pujara and Vijay both took on the spinners when they erred in length. The spin duo bowled a total of three maiden overs in their combined 28 so far. Rashid conceded at 3.76 per over — thanks to Vijay lofting him over the infield successfully on multiple occasions. India’s most prolific batting pair in the current squad identified England’s lack of options in the spin department and deprived Alastair Cook of any control over the run-scoring.
Ashwin perhaps had the best assessment of the pitch at the end of day’s play. “It’s difficult to find that length here. It’s difficult to bowl maidens too. Sometimes you can bowl a good ball, and it can be played off the back foot because of the bounce. Have to get the seam position right, the pace right. A lot needs to go well on this surface.”
And thus, at the end of day two, it is not quite clear who holds the advantage. Is it just a question of Ali and Rashid finding their groove on the pitch and running through India’s batting order? Have Ashwin and Jadeja showed their quality far exceeds that of England’s spinners on a pitch that is really not that difficult? Or did Vijay and Pujara make England’s bowling look ordinary?
In a match that has twisted and turned so far, without either side running away with it, the moving day — third day — might bring out more answers.