OFF-SPINNER Ravichandran Ashwin claimed his 150th Test wicket with an impressive five-wicket haul to put India in command against South Africa at the end of the second day of the first Test at the Punjab Cricket Association (PCA) Stadium in Mohali on Friday.
Ashwin created history by becoming the first Indian to reach 150 Test wickets in just 29 matches, going past legends Erapalli Prasanna and Anil Kumble who did it in 34 games. He also claimed his 100th wicket at home when he dismissed Imran Tahir, the last Protean batsman to fall in their first innings.
Right-hand bat Cheteshwar Pujara (63 batting) consolidated on Ashwin's commendable work, helping the hosts reach 125/2 in 40 overs in the second innings at stumps. Pujara and skipper Virat Kohli (11 batting) remained unbeaten at stumps as India's overall lead swelled to 142 runs post their first innings score of 201.
Earlier in the day, South Africa got off to a sluggish start as Ashwin dismissed both overnight batsmen Hashim Amla (43) and Dean Elgar (37) after the duo put on a 76-run third-wicket partnership.
The 29-year-old, who finished with figures of 5-51, went on to wreck the visitors' batting order to bundle them out for just 184 in the first innings. He was well assisted by fellow tweakers Ravindra Jadeja (3-55) and Amit Mishra (2-55). The Amla-Elgar duo was cautious but made steady progress on a slow and low wicket. They were surrounded by close-in fielders but negotiated the spin threat from the Indian bowlers.
Ashwin extracted a lot of spin from the wicket and forced Dean Elgar (37) into an error. The left-hander attempted a sweep, succeeding only in offering a catch. Elgar's 123-ball stay at the wicket was laced with just two boundaries. Ashwin then made further inroads, picking Dane Vilas (1) to leave the visitors in a spot of bother at 107/5. The visitors never looked like settling down, losing wickets at regular intervals to hand the hosts the advantage.
Highlights from what was an excellent second day for India at Mohali:
AB de Villiers (63) top scored for the visitors but was running short of partners with the Indian spinners dismissing the tailenders cheaply. Vernon Philander (3), Simon Harmer (7), Dale Steyn (6) and Imran Tahir (4) all fell in quick succession to give India a vital 17-run lead before coming into bat in the second innings. South Africa's only hope, de Villiers, after scoring a fine half-century on a spin-friendly wicket was bowled by leg-spinner Mishra.
India intended to start strongly in their second innings to build a big lead. But pacer Vernon Philander got the early breakthrough again, dismissing Shikhar Dhawan in the third over, to complete a miserable match for the Delhi left-hander who was dismissed for duck in both innings.
But the experienced duo of Murali Vijay (47) and Pujara held on firmly, pitching in with crucial runs to help their team take their lead past the 100-run mark. Leg-spinner Tahir gave the visitors something to cheer about when he dismissed the well set Vijay at the fag end of the day.
Day 3 is shaping up nicely, and India are placed in a commanding position with a sizeable lead. Dale Steyn did not bowl on the 2nd day owing to a groin strain, and he isn't expected to bowl on the third day either. It will be interesting to see how South Africa cope with his absence. It's advantage India for now!