The first Test in Wankhede since the emotionally-charged 200th and the final Test of Sachin Tendulkar saw a complete shift of advantage over the course of an eventful final session, when Ashwin and Jayant Yadav pushed the England batsman on the backfoot with copious amounts of turn accompanied by good bounce.
England, who’ve won two of their previous Tests at the venue (in 2006 and 2012) started brightly, courtesy a very good batting display from the 24-year-old Jennings, and dominated proceedings for the first two sessions. The left-hander weathered an early storm after Alastair Cook opted to bat on a surface where bowlers were expected to do well at the start of the day. Umesh Yadav generated speed in excess of 140 kmph and constantly beat Jennings outside the off stump and made him uncomfortable with the rising delivery. Jennings’s debut would’ve turned out completely differently if Karun Nair, at gully, would’ve gotten fully behind the outside edge that flew past his grasp when the opener was yet to open his account.
With time, the Durham batsman showed tendency to bat confidently and without letting the occasion get the better of him. Full deliveries outside the off-stump were neatly driven away through covers, while short and wide ones were cut away with a lot of conviction. The opening batsman earned his second lifeline when Virat Kohli reviewed for a close LBW call. Replays showed that the impact of the ball hitting him on the front pad was marginally outside the off-stump.
The youngster made good use of the reprieves and added 99 runs for the opening wicket with captain Alastair Cook. Jennings displayed good technique against spin, as he crouched down really low while executing risk-free sweep shots. Towards the end of the first session, when Kohli had spinners operating from both ends, Cook fell against the run of play when his attempt to go after Ravindra Jadeja back-fired. He danced down the track but couldn’t connect bat to ball while attempted a big heave over mid-wicket. Parthiv Patel completed the formalities behind the stumps. Joe Root and Jennings took the team to Lunch on 117 for 1, the advantage still with England.
Early into the second session, Ashwin managed to drill a hole into the advantage that England carefully built over the first session. The Indian spinner lured Root into stretching out and fending at a length delivery that turned away, and thereby nicking it to Kohli at first slip.
With Ali joining Jennings in the middle, there were three primary objectives of the ball once it left Ashwin’s fingers – drift into the left-handers, pitch and turn away sharply. Ashwin put on an exhibition of spin bowling that saw him utilise the extra bounce on offer and square up the two batsmen on numerous occasions.
Jennings’s penchant to sweep the spinners without much fuss prompted Kohli to place a fielder in the deep, behind square, in order to add some risk factor to that shot. The Durham batsman improvised and executed a couple of reverse-sweeps off Jadeja to counter Kohli’s ploy. Ashwin and Jadeja bowled 17 overs of non-stop spin in the second session with the hope of negating England’s promising start, as they’ve done repeatedly during this series, but Jennings and Ali held on, albeit cautiously.
During Ashwin’s final over of the spell, an unexpected drinks break came about when a wayward, lobbed throw from deep square-leg fielder Bhuvneshwar Kumar struck umpire Paul Reiffel at the back of his head, which called for medical attention. Reiffel eventually walked off the field and had third umpire Marais Erasmus taking his place.
Ali and Jennings forced Kohli to make several bowling changes towards the end of the second session, but without any desired result. During the course of this partnership, Jennings brought up a commendable century, with his third reverse-sweep of the innings. Despite scoring just 79 runs in the second session, after a flourishing opening session where they managed 117, England still held the aces going into the break.
An Ashwin-inspired India came out for the third time and turned the tables on the visitors. Ali and Jennings made a breezy start, with fours and sixes, in the first five overs but a moment of madness gave Ashwin a small opening into England’s line-up. Ali, who had just reached his ninth Test fifty, top-edged a slog-sweep and was taken by Nair at midwicket.
A buoyed Ashwin flummoxed centurion Jennings with dip and turn, as the left-hander edged a length ball to Cheteshwar Pujara, who had been stationed at deep gully only a couple of deliveries before the chance came along. Even the best Test batsman of 2016, Jonny Bairstow, couldn’t see off a rampaging Ashwin, as the England wicketkeeper-batsman too succumbed to the pressure after lasting 19 deliveries. A bit of extra bounce meant Bairstow’s slog-sweep was miscued, and Umesh took a good catch at backward square leg to reduce the visitors to 249 for 5.
Jos Buttler (18 not out off 37 balls) and Ben Stokes (25 off 79 balls), whose default template is aggressive batting, managed to curb their instincts and stay unbeaten despite India’s spin troika of Ashwin, Jayant Yadav and Jadeja turning the ball square.
Brief scores: England 288/5 (Keaton Jennings 112, Moeen Ali 50, Alastair Cook 46; Ravichandran Ashwin 4-75) vs England.