England were frustrated by a 107-run partnership between Murali Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara on day two of the fourth Test against India in Mumbai.
Jos Buttler (76) and Jake Ball (31) helped England – who trail 2-0 in the series – reach 400 as Ravichandran Ashwin took another five-wicket haul.
KL Rahul fell for 24 early in India’s reply, but Vijay’s unbeaten 70 steadied India.
Pujara’s calm 47 helped India keep England at bay as they ended on 146-1.
Buttler and Ball’s partnership moved England to a competitive score and Rahul’s dismissal before tea put the visitors in a strong position, but England let the game drift in the evening session.
The India batsmen worked the singles as England’s seamers struggled on a pitch that offered no assistance, and targeted off-spinner Moeen Ali and, particularly, leg-spinner Adil Rashid.
“The difference in the quality of the spinners is why it looks like the pitch has flattened out,” former England captain Michael Vaughan said on BBC Test Match Special.
“It’s all to play for – terrific Test match cricket. The difference in the quality of the spinners is why it looks like the pitch has flattened out.”
England have never lost a Test in the subcontinent after making 400 in the first innings, but that total looked beyond them when they resumed on 288-5.
Buttler had passed 50 just once in his previous 15 Test innings but he judged this innings well, playing cautiously before using quick singles and the reverse sweep to up the tempo.
He watched from the other end as Chris Woakes edged Ravindra Jadeja to wicketkeeper Parthiv Patel and Rashid left a delivery that did not turn and hit middle stump. It was left to him and Ball to frustrate India’s bowlers.
Buttler shielded Ball from the strike at first but the number 10 proved to be a more than adequate partner. He cut and flicked Jadeja for four before crashing the new ball to the boundary.
A shoulder injury threw Ball off-balance and he fell three balls later to Ashwin, but James Anderson was able to help push England to 400 before Buttler was bowled by Jadeja.
Ex-England captain Michael Vaughan
Number seven is a really good position for Buttler at this stage. He can play his natural game. Whatever the situation he can go out and look to attack.
This 400 is a tremendous score for England but the spinners will have to get the ball in the right zone more consistently. There’s plenty there for them.
Former England batsman Geoffrey Boycott
It’s a good total, 400, if you have decent spinners, but England’s spinners are nowhere near as good as India’s.
They have one good spinner and one average spinner. They leak a lot of runs and it’s very hard for them to squeeze pressure.
BBC cricket correspondent Jonathan Agnew
On balance India finished the day in the better position. They’re well placed to pile the pressure on to England’s second innings unless Moeen and Rashid can get amongst the wickets tomorrow.
The wicket continues to deteriorate but there’s nothing for the four fast bowlers. Instead, the onus is on the spinners. The occasional ball aside, Moeen and Rashid were easily negotiated by Vijay and Pujara.
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Off-spinner Ashwin picked India up on the first day and he was the pick of the bowlers again on the second, registering his seventh five-wicket haul of the year as he got the ball to spin sharply.
Ben Stokes fell just 18 balls into the day when he edged Ashwin to Virat Kohli at slip. He was left furious after the dismissal, convinced he had not hit the ball, but the replay showed a deviation and Stokes became Ashwin’s fifth wicket.
He broke the 54-run partnership between Ball and Buttler with a clever bit of bowling that cramped Ball for room and induced a thin edge through to wicketkeeper Parthiv Patel.
Ashwin has now taken 23 five-wicket hauls in Test cricket – the third highest by any Indian spinner – since making his debut five years ago and is the leading wicket taker in this series with 21.
“Without Ashwin, India were a shambles yesterday,” said Vaughan. “You’re looking at a world-class spinner who has got something out of this pitch, but orthodox spinners like Jadeja and Jayant Yadav have got nothing out of it.”
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