Ben Duckett’s unbeaten century leads England fightback against India in third Test

Indian spinner Ravichandran Ashwin joins 500 club as tourists close day on 207 for two chasing 445

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Ben Duckett’s terrific unbeaten century led England’s fightback against India as he repelled even Ravichandran Ashwin on the day the off-spinning great celebrated his 500th Test wicket.

India racked up an imposing 445 in Rajkot, aided by some slipshod England fielding, but Duckett’s boundary-laden 133 not out off just 118 deliveries rocketed the tourists to 207 for two after day two of this third Test.

Duckett’s first spell as a Test cricketer met its demise in India after he was tormented by Ashwin in November 2016 but he laid any ghosts to rest with a classy innings, reaching his ton off 88 balls.

It was the quickest by an Englishman in India as he swept the spinners to distraction in the final session as well as driving and cutting the quicks with regularity, collecting 21 fours and two sixes.

He refused to allow anyone to settle, which meant Ashwin’s milestone wicket was overshadowed after dismissing Zak Crawley for 15 to become just the ninth bowler and second Indian to join the 500 club.

Ashwin had earlier been responsible for England starting their innings on five without loss after encroaching on the protected area of the pitch while batting.

Ravindra Jadeja had been given India’s first and only warning on day one so when Ashwin did the same attempting a single, England were handed five runs. That became six for none without a legal ball bowled when Jasprit Bumrah overstepped at the start of England’s innings before tea.

India’s total was striking and while England were typically undaunted, Duckett was given an initial working over by Mohammed Siraj, who beat the left-hander’s outside edge three times in a single over.

But Duckett accelerated rapidly after tea, taking 10 fours in his first 27 balls of the session, picking the gaps with alarming ease as he repeatedly swept left-arm wrist-spinner Kuldeep Yadav and drove and carved through the off-side off Siraj.

Given Duckett’s past struggles against Ashwin, dismissed five times in five Tests, it was a surprise he was held back until the 12th over with England on 76 for none. Duckett was on 55 and Ashwin did strike for his landmark wicket but it was Crawley who spooned a sweep out of the rough to short fine-leg.

The end of an 89-run opening stand did not deter Duckett, who slog swept Ashwin for six, moments after surviving an India lbw review on 79, saved by an inside edge following Bumrah’s searing yorker.

Duckett might have been on course for England’s fastest Test century at one stage but he spent 12 balls in the 90s before driving Siraj down the ground for his 19th four to bring up England’s second quickest ton by an opener – two balls slower than Crawley managed against Pakistan in December 2022.

The expensive Siraj ended Duckett’s 93-run stand with Ollie Pope, given out for 39 on review after being struck on the knee roll but England, motoring along at six an over, still finished strongly.

They began the day seeking quick wickets as India resumed on 326 for five. James Anderson winkled out nightwatcher Kuldeep after drawing a faint edge while Jadeja, on 112, tamely chipped back to Joe Root, who partially atoned for shelling Rohit Sharma the day before, a drop that cost England 104 runs.

India might have been 331 for seven but debutant Dhruv Jurel was selected ahead of Srikar Bharat for his batting and Ashwin possesses five Test hundreds. They were both allowed to settle as England lacked their usual vigour and the only moment of concern for India before lunch was Ashwin’s penalty.

Ashwin remonstrated with Joel Wilson, putting his hand on the umpire’s shoulder, and seemed distinctly unimpressed for a while afterwards but refused to succumb to a rush of blood.

India’s batters accumulated steadily but Jurel had two reprieves on 32 at the afternoon’s outset, with Ollie Pope and Ben Stokes spilling chest-high catches. They were both difficult, Stokes’ especially, but took England’s missed opportunities up to five – three drops and two failed referrals.

India had gone beyond 400 when Anderson held on to one, albeit at the second attempt, as Ashwin slammed to mid-on for 37 off Rehan Ahmed, who was twice deposited back over his head for six by Jurel.

Rehan gained revenge as Jurel fell four short of a fifty after feathering an attempted cut but Bumrah clattered 26 before being pinned in front by Mark Wood, the pick of England’s attack with four for 114.

Wood, who also contributed a run out in the first innings, said of Duckett's innings on TNT: “It was amazing. As a bowler it’s class when you’ve done all that toil and you get to sit in the dressing room and watch something like that.

“Sometimes it looked like India weren’t sure of their fields. They’d have a man here, he’d hit it to the next place; he’d sweep it behind square, then he’d sweep it in front. It was amazing to watch.

“In the nets we’re just trying to get him to leave one ball because he doesn’t leave many.”

India spinner Ashwin said: "I would like to dedicate my 500th wicket to my father. He has been there through thick and thin.

"The game is neck and neck. They are putting us under pressure but it is important not to react to that pressure.

Updated: February 16, 2024, 12:50 PM