England were facing up to a huge first-innings deficit after slipping to 106 for eight on day two of the second Test against India.
The tourists dismissed India for 329 in the first hour of play, Moeen Ali and Olly Stone taking two wickets each, but soon realised how steep that total really was on a Chennai pitch offering drastic turn.
The entire top order was gone with just 87 on the board, including the in-form Joe Root for just six, and at tea they were still 24 short of the follow-on mark with only two wickets in hand.
With Ravichandran Ashwin fully on song and four wickets to the good and left-armer Axar Patel offering solid support, the way back already seems a long and perilous one.
4⃣ wickets for #TeamIndia in the second session6⃣7⃣ runs for England
The third and final session of the day shall commence shortly.
— BCCI (@BCCI) February 14, 2021
England would have been happy with their morning’s work, taking less than 40 minutes to wrap the India innings for the addition of 29 runs.
Moeen picked up two wickets in the second over of the day to finish with four for 128 on his comeback appearance.
The first was a good ball but an even better piece of wicketkeeping, Ben Foakes following the turn past Patel’s outside edge then seamlessly flicking the bails as the batsman’s momentum drew him forward.
It was a deserved calling card for the Surrey man on his return to the side, to go with a spotless scorecard showing no byes on a tricky pitch.
Two balls later there was a less edifying spectacle as Ishant spooned a full toss straight to short mid-wicket.
A really tough session.
We're eight wickets down at Tea.
— England Cricket (@englandcricket) February 14, 2021
Rishabh Pant now knew time was against him and unleashed a barrage of aggressive strokes, with Moeen bearing the brunt as he reached 58 not out.
His fun ended when Stone entered the attack and mopped things up in the space of five deliveries, both Ishant and Mohammed Siraj edging to Foakes as they bristled at the pace.
The clatter of wickets will not have eased the minds of the English openers and neither Rory Burns nor Dom Sibley survived the new ball.
Burns managed only three deliveries before Ishant had him lbw from round the wicket, clipped in front of leg stump for a third duck in his last five outings.
Sibley started more convincingly, scoring each of the first 16 runs, before an attempted sweep off Ashwin bumped the back of his bat on its way to an animated Virat Kohli at leg-slip.
With first-innings knocks of 228, 186 and 218 to his name in the last three Tests, Root’s arrival carried unreasonably high expectations. For once he fell well short.
Caught a fleeting view of an interesting test match in Chennai. 🏏 🇮🇳 🏴 pic.twitter.com/3fqWCgywhk
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) February 14, 2021
Having barely mis-timed a solitary sweep shot since the start of the year, he was undone by turn and saw a top edge loop obligingly to short fine-leg, giving Patel a memorable debut wicket.
Dan Lawrence lasted 52 balls for his nine but it was a tortured existence and came to an end off the last ball before lunch as Ashwin kept the close catchers in business. From 39 for four, things took a further turn for the worse when Ben Stokes was comprehensively bowled by the classy Ashwin.
Beaten through the air and off the pitch, he shook his head as he paid with his off stump. England found a moment of respite in a 35-run stand between the Surrey duo of Ollie Pope and Foakes, who showed solid techniques before Pope was brilliantly caught down the leg-side by Pant.
That gave Siraj a wicket with his first ball on home soil and ruined a burgeoning partnership.
While Foakes progressed to a solid 23no, there were two more before tea. Moeen was caught at slip after an edge off Patel bounced kindly off Pant’s leg and Stone chipped Ashwin helplessly to short midwicket.