England’s punchdrunk batsmen crumbled one last time against India’s spinners as their hopes of a series-levelling victory in the fourth Test went up in smoke on day three in Ahmedabad.
The hosts piled up a first-innings lead of 160 after adding another 69 runs in the morning session, before Ravichandran Ashwin and Axar Patel continued their outright domination of a team who looked mentally spent and technically troubled.
The pair have had England under their spell for the last three matches and shared the wickets evenly as they slumped to 91 for six at tea. At that stage the only thing that had gone against India was the frustration of seeing Washington Sundar stranded on 96 not out in the morning.
He had seemed dead set for a maiden Test hundred but watched on helplessly as England finished the innings with three wickets in five balls – a run out, followed by two hard-earned wickets for the tireless Ben Stokes.
He and Patel had resumed their knocks in buoyant mood, 89 ahead and riding high after Rishabh Pant’s game-changing 101 on the second evening. James Anderson started with his customary control, working through five overs at a cost of just four runs, but there was no holding back the tide as they added 69 runs in 90 chanceless minutes.
England’s under-pressure spinner Dom Bess conceded 15 of those in just two overs at the start of the day. He was thrown straight into the game as Joe Root attempted to bolster his confidence but after two fours and one long six, he had to be whipped out of the attack to spare him any further damage.
Jack Leach was tighter than Bess but was made to look largely docile as the eighth-wicket stand ticked into three figures. After more than 100 overs of work in sweltering 38-degree heat, England were visibly flagging and it took a run out to rouse them.
Patel was sent back in search of an ambitious single, failing to make his ground in time. Sundar would not face another delivery, as the tireless Stokes gratefully accepted the opportunity to wrap things. A big inswinger had Ishant Sharma lbw to his first ball and another rushed through Mohammed Siraj’s defences.
That left England’s openers with a tricky three-over stint before the lunch break and, although they came through that unscathed, it did not take long for fresh wounds to reopen.
Ashwin was called into the attack at the start of the afternoon session and promptly took two in two balls, Zak Crawley nicking the straight one to slip and Jonny Bairstow turning the off-break to leg-slip.
The pair have plenty to reflect on once the match reaches its inevitable early conclusion, Crawley having six single-figure scores in four Tests this winter and Bairstow sitting on a run of three ducks in four attempts since returning from a break.
Dom Sibley’s output has also nosedived since scoring 87 in his first knock of the series but his dismissal for just three was a freak occurrence. Sweeping Patel, he smashed the ball out of the middle but saw the ball crash into Shubman Gill’s pads at short-leg and loop to Pant.
At 30 for three, Root and Stokes had a mountain to climb. But, having top-scored with 55 on day one and then returned four for 89 in a gut-busting effort with the ball, Stokes had run dry. He managed just two before turning Patel round the corner to the waiting Virat Kohli.
Root kept the scoreboard ticking along and Ollie Pope had the small satisfaction of a clean six off Ashwin, but both fell in the space of three deliveries as the rot continued. Pope’s eagerness to use his feet saw him stumped for 15 on the charge against Ashwin and Root was pinned lbw for 30, defending deep in the crease to Patel.
Ben Foakes and Dan Lawrence reached the tea break but still had plenty to do to make the hosts bat for a second time.