3rd Test (D/N), Ahmedabad, February 24 - 25, 2021, England tour of India
112 & 81
(T:49) 145 & 49/0

India won by 10 wickets

Player Of The Match
Axar Patel, INDIA
6/38 & 5/32

Pink-ball beauty is in the eye of the beholder as India seize control of third Test

India see clean through the optics to dominate England on opening day/night

Andrew Miller
Andrew Miller
India 99 for 3 (Rohit 57*, Leach 2-27) trail England 112 (Crawley 53, Patel 6-38, Ashwin 3-26) by 13 runs
What do you see when you look at a pink ball? As Joe Root had indicated on the eve of the Ahmedabad Test, there's not a lot of data to back up any preconceptions about day-night Test cricket. Therefore, both sets of players came into this contest at perfect liberty to see in the conditions whatever they so chose.
Ben Stokes, for England's part, had been "licking his lips" in anticipation of a seam-dominated joust in what he clearly envisaged being the Trent Bridge of the East. And sure enough, England's optimistic surge continued on the morning of the match, as James Anderson and Stuart Broad were thrown together for one last heist, like the cast of Ocean's 14, before Root won a crucial toss and handed his batsmen the same opportunity that they had seized upon in the first Test - a chance to post a gargantuan first innings and dominate the match narrative through sheer weight of runs.
Well, so much for the best-laid plans and all that. Unfortunately for England's dreamers, India saw clean through the optics, and the lacquer, and all the paraphernalia that comes with this most fundamental switch of the sport's basics. Instead they looked directly at another dry, dusty red-earthed deck, and opened their ears to the sweet music of 50,000 passionate fans at the newly minted Narendra Modi stadium - which, even when half full, was still more populated than almost any ground bar the MCG.
The upshot was an ardour-dousing day of one-sided dominance - one that has emphatically killed off any hopes of Root's men emulating those of Sir Alastair Cook nine years ago, and inflicting on India a rare home series defeat. The late dismissal of Virat Kohli was a boost to their hopes of limiting their deficit but by that stage Rohit Sharma was rumbling on towards another century - very different, but no less emphatic, to the game-breaker he produced on the first day of the previous Test.
And though Anderson and Broad proved predictably parsimonious in their combined analysis of 15-7-27-0, they had been fighting the rising tide from their opening spells after England's catastrophic batting malfunction had surrendered any right to set the match agenda. Instead, England's attentions began to stray to factors beyond their control - most notably, the state of the footmarks that were forming big cavities for their heavy-limbed seamers, and the state of the TV umpiring, which reprieved each of India's openers on evidence that may have been correct but was less-than-conclusive, much to Root's mounting fury.
Instead, the mastery of R Ashwin - in his 77th Test and now odds-on to reach 400 wickets before the match is done - was matched for the second Test in a row by the eager apprenticeship of Axar Patel, who proved his debut in Chennai had been no fluke by improving on his Test-best figures with a remarkable haul of 6 for 38 in 21.4 overs.
Between them, they harvested the doubts that still lingered from that last Test, and instigated a collapse that was remarkable even by the standards of England's last visit to India in 2016-17.
From a pre-lunch scoreline of 74 for 2, with Zak Crawley batting with uncommon poise and panache, England squandered their last eight wickets for 38 in 17 overs - almost universally spooked by the fear of what might have been, rather than by any unplayability on the part of the balls that did them in.
Between them the spinners accounted for nine of England's ten all told - the exception being Dom Sibley, who flinched to slip in the third over for a duck to give Ishant Sharma a souvenir from his 100th Test appearance. On the evidence of the rest of the innings, Ishant is unlikely to be over-worked in the next few days.
Despite some unconventional seam movement for Jasprit Bumrah in particular, India turned to spin as early as the seventh over - and were not made to wait for vindication. Jonny Bairstow, hailed as England's missing link in Chennai despite a top score of 47 in his two appearances at No. 3 in Sri Lanka, showed that visualisation hadn't been a big part of his rest-and-rotation break. He poked uncertainly at his first ball from Axar and was slammed on the knee-roll by the ball that didn't turn - his wasteful use of the review merely compounding his confusion.
That brought Root to the middle several hours earlier than he would have liked - although in his earliest overs, he was at least shielded by an extraordinary flurry from Crawley at the other end. It would prove all too brief in the end, but while it lasted, Crawley's timing was stunning - right from his very first scoring shot, a non-committal block that pinged through long-on off Bumrah.
He continued in the same vein en route to a 68-ball fifty, replete with drives and clips whenever seamer and spinner alike over-pitched. And just as Rohit had transcended the conditions in Chennai through his uncompromising weight of stroke, so Crawley appeared to be providing the forward momentum that England needed to post a competitive total. So long as he endured, and enabled Root to grow into his day's work, the chance was there to make a good toss count.
But then, on 17, Root made a fatal misjudgement - Ashwin's brilliance is through the air every bit as much off the pitch, and having given the impression in his first three Tests of the winter that he was infallible to the trickery of all spinners, Root chose to slide onto the back foot to a ball that just kept hanging in the air longer than he had anticipated, and was pinned in front of middle and leg as the ball pitched and gripped. Tellingly, he had barely unfurled a single sweep in the course of his 37-ball stay.
Moments earlier, England had seemed set to claim the morning spoils. Instead, their mood was wrecked three overs later, as Crawley succumbed to the best double-whammy of the day. Two deliveries from Axar, pitching in almost identical spots - the first ripped venomously past the outside edge; the second kissed straight on through, off the deck, into the knee-roll, to leave England on 80 for 4 and with two new batsmen at the crease.
The first of those, Ollie Pope, didn't even see out the over after the interval, as he too was done in by Ashwin's flight, and beaten around the outside edge by another ball that skipped on through to hit off stump. And one over later, Stokes surrendered on the back foot to Axar, pinned in front of off as he rocked back and simply missed with a defensive poke. At Chennai, he'd been launching such deliveries over midwicket in a "get them before they get you" mindset, but here he felt obliged to drop anchor for the cause, to no avail.
The rest were rounded up with minimal fuss - Ben Foakes the last to go for a becalmed 12 from 58 balls as he too missed a straight one, bowled by Axar as he rocked back to cut and missed. In mitigation, the timing of their final collapse - an hour into the afternoon session - did mean that England would be bowling as the witching hour set in, but it was going to take a bout of necromancy from Anderson and Broad to revive England from this point.
Suffice to say, it did not transpire. Both men were promoted to the new ball ahead of Archer - which was food for thought in itself after the manner in which Archer had roughed up Rohit in the first innings at Chennai - but in their familiar, self-preservatory fashion, both men dragged their lengths back, almost subconsciously, to avoid being driven, rather than attack from the outset in the do-or-die manner that the moment required.
Shubman Gill, for his part, did his utmost to ride out the threat - he took 27 balls to score his first run, by which stage he had been reprieved by the third umpire after Stokes at second slip failed to close his fingers around a low edge off Broad. Archer eventually scalped him with the short ball, and Cheteshwar Pujara then fell for a duck - his third dismissal by Jack Leach this series after four years of dominating left-arm spinners. But it was too little too late for England's hopes, which were perhaps best summed up by Pope's eventful few minutes in the field in the closing overs.
One moment, he came close to pulling off a world-class one-handed take at short leg as he pre-meditated Rohit's sweep and launched himself to his right. The next, no doubt still brooding on the one that got away, he dropped Kohli at slip off the luckless Anderson, who according to ESPNcricinfo's ball-by-ball data has now induced 73 false strokes and three dropped catches off the main man since he last claimed his wicket seven years ago. On this evidence, he might not get another opportunity before this contest is done and dusted.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. He tweets at @miller_cricket

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