Ashwin, Saha take India closer to safety

India 411 for 6 (Ashwin 29*, Saha 29*) trail England 537 by 126 runs
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Compton: Kohli was getting close to stumps before hit-wicket

India’s lower order stood up once again to take them a session closer to safety after Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane both fell against the run of play. They had seen off the first burst of the day, but Kohli tread on his stumps when pulling Adil Rashid and Ajinkya Rahane played a loose shot to be bowled by Zafar Ansari.

Yet again, though, R Ashwin and Wriddhiman Saha were there to thwart yet another visiting attack as they added an unbeaten 50 to take India to within 126 of England’s 537. With five sessions to go in the Test, the draw gained its lead as the likeliest outcome even though the pitch began to turn more, as it should.

Jonny Bairstow was the man in spotlight, being the first person to spot the bail-skimmers. Rahane saw a ball short from Ansari, but perhaps it was not short enough, which meant he ended up playing a half-flick and half-pull, missing the line as well. The ball kissed the top of the stumps. Three overs later, Kohli, who had batted watchfully to negate England’s plans, went back deep into the crease to pull a short ball from Rashid. The extra bounce perhaps cramped him up, which meant his front foot went back down the line of the stumps, as opposed to wide of them, when he swivelled. He kept the ball down, but his front boot just tickled the bottom of the leg stump as he finished swivelling. Bairstow noticed the missing bail and appealed.

Ajinkya Rahane played a half-flick, half-pull, but missed the ball and was bowled by Zafar Ansari © Associated Press

At 361 for 6, still 176 behind, India had given England a slight opening. But, as has often happened in recent times, India’s lower middle order crushed those hopes again. There was one chance. Bairstow might argue it was only a half-chance, and there have been keepers more established than him who haven’t gone for those. Saha was on 9 when he edged Ben Stokes’ second ball of the morning. It shaped away after pitching short of a length, and was dying well in front of first slip. Bairstow went for it, reached its line, but seemed to have misjudged the trajectory of the ball as it squeezed under his glove.

Saha offered no other opportunity since then. At the other end, there was no hope for the bowlers. Ashwin was never beaten in the flight against spin. When he moved forward he reached the pitch of the ball thanks to his height. When he went back he did so having picked the shorter length early, and cut handsomely. By lunch the two had become India’s fourth most prolific partnership since Saha became a permanent part of India’s Test side, late in 2014.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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