As is often said, even experienced and accomplished cricketers enter into a Test match with a few nerves dangling inside them. India’s star all-rounder Ravichandran Ashwin certainly exemplified the adage during the opening day of the third Test against England at the PCA Stadium in Mohali,
The 30-year old dropped one of the easiest catches which any fielder can ask for at any level of the game. More importantly, the man he reprieved was the England skipper who usually finds batting in Indian conditions as comfortable as consuming a staple English breakfast of fish and fries. The reactions of the fielders gave an indication of what exactly had transpired.
Shoulders began to droop and captain Virat Kohli could hardly believe that his side had let Alastair Cook go with not so much a slap on the wrist. As for Ashwin himself, he kept his head down in agony/embarrassment even as the giant screen kept playing the replays. England’s poster boy-turned-commentator Ian Botham sounded like Christmas had come early by pointing out that the dropped catch could live in the Tamil Nadu off-spinner's memory for as many as six months.
Upon losing the toss on a surface which is expected to start deteriorating from the second day itself, the last thing India needed was shoddy catching. Prior to the Ashwin drop, Cook was let off by makeshift slip-fielder Ravindra Jadeja in the third over of the match. Mohammed Shami was the unfortunate bowler at the receiving end of both missed opportunities. Understandably aggrieved, he tried his best to hide the seething anger that accompanies a fast bowler.
Watch the highlights of Cook’s dropped catches here
While the Jadeja chance was reasonably difficult as evidenced by his inability to even get as much as a finger onto it, Ashwin’s catch was as straightforward as they come. Even though Umesh Yadav had removed Haseeb Hameed with a vicious delivery, England were starting to feel the momentum shift. Already, memories of Southampton 2014 began to circle the Mohali air.
But, not for long. Immediately after the drinks break, Jayant Yadav brought India back into the contest by dismissing Joe Root. The Yorkshireman made a costly misjudgment in length and played back to a delivery that was not all that short. However, Cook was still there with his knives primed to get to work.
Ashwin turned the tide by landing the big blow with his very first delivery. He finally had lady luck smiling on him though as the sturdy left-hander somehow failed to execute his favourite shot. To a seemingly innocuous ball, Cook was not able to cut it and could only feather an edge to Parthiv Patel who held on to a smart catch in his comeback match.
Catch the highlights of Cook’s dismissal here
Shami eventually got into the wickets column as well when he dislodged Moeen Ali with a well directed bouncer. The seamer, who is growing in stature as India’s pace spearhead, preyed on the elegant southpaw’s perennial weakness and reduced him to an awkward position. This time, the catch was taken.
A session which could have gone England’s way was prised out by the Indians due to their bowlers’ relentlessness. Kohli’s astute captaincy deserves a mention too as he rotated both the spinners and pacers with precision.