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Ravichandran Ashwin is India's trump card in England Test series, says Rob Key

"Ashwin is probably just the best spinner in the world and he is certainly the best spinner in his own conditions"; Rob Key says there is no better spinner in home conditions than Ravichandran Ashwin but England's batsmen must find a way to combat his threat

BCCI - Ravichandran Ashwin of India celebrates the wicket of Dan Lawrence of England  during day two of the first test match between India and England held at the Chidambaram Stadium stadium in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India on the 6th February 2021..Photo by Pankaj Nangia/ Sportzpics for BCCI
Image: Ravichandran Ashwin is the best spinner in the world at exploiting his home conditions, says Rob Key (Pic credit: BCCI)

Rob Key reflects on a difficult first two days for England in the second Test in Chennai in which India's 'joker in the pack' Ravichandran Ashwin has put the hosts in a fantastic position to be able to level the series...

After losing the first Test, India have gone into the second on a pitch like this and said 'we'll back Ashwin against your spinners', and it's worked.

They won a good toss, albeit I think the toss was less important from India's point of view, and Rohit Sharma has shown the difference with the bat. I thought that was such a good innings on day one and with every wicket that goes down, that innings get better and better.

That aggression and counterpunching on a pitch that was suiting the spinners, it is going to be the difference and there are very few people in the world who you think could have done it.

BCCI - Rohit Sharma of India celebrates after scoring a hundred during day one of the second PayTM test match between India and England held at the Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India on the 13th February 2021..Photo by Pankaj Nangia/ Sportzpics for BCCI
Image: Rohit Sharma scored a superb 162 for India on day one in Chennai (Picture credit: BCCI)

On top of that, I think Ashwin is probably just the best spinner in the world and he is certainly the best spinner in his own conditions. These are very, very favourable conditions and it's like having a joker in the pack. You've got the trump card which is going to beat pretty much everyone. On these types of pitches, most spinners can bowl good balls but Ashwin's all-round class is the difference.

There is no question that it is very tough for the batsmen, but they have still got to try and find a way. It is a situation, after England's innings, where you are not going to be particularly hard on the way that people have got out but you have got to say 'this is how it is, this is the problem we have in front of us and we have to find a way to deal with it'.

You can't just think that because conditions are difficult, we don't expect anything. You have to come up with a game plan; that might be trying to play shots, it might be trying to hang in there but whatever it is, you somehow have to find a way to score some runs on that pitch - and that is seriously tough.

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Axar Patel (Pic credit - BCCI)
Image: Axar Patel claimed two wickets on debut as England were skittled for 134 (Pic credit - BCCI)

At the end of the day, your score will remain and people won't remember the pitch in years to some, it will just be either runs or no runs. The answer is not obvious, but you have to come up with something in these conditions.

In the second innings, England just have to try and find their way of scoring. Dom Sibley can't try and play like Joe Root or Ben Stokes and Ben Stokes isn't going to bat like Dom Sibley. No matter who you are, you almost have to take the situation out of the game and see the chance for Test match runs.

You can't start thinking that losing your wicket will cost your side the game, you just have to think 'this is my game plan to score runs on this pitch, this is how I'm going to do it' - don't even look at the scoreboard, don't think about saving the game, just go out and play and hope that that stands you in good stead India will be thinking about trying to play on the same type of pitch again.

Joe Root (Pic credit - BCCI)
Image: Joe Root is England's man in form. Can he lead the way in England's second innings? (Pic credit - BCCI)

The speculation on the pitch is redundant in way, it's fantastic to watch when the ball is doing so much but actually there are some pretty clear guidelines from the ICC on what a pitch in Test match cricket should be.

One aspect is that it shouldn't show excessive spin or seam on the first day and you have to say that this pitch showed excessive spin on the first day. The umpires are the people who have to make the judgement and you would expect them to mark it 'poor' and then you see what happens from there.

I'll be very interested to see what comes of that.

One positive for England on day two was Ben Foakes, he played a remarkable knock. He's hardly played any cricket, he kept brilliantly - as well as you'll see anyone keep in those conditions - during India's first innings and came out having probably played less cricket than anyone else on either side and straight away had a game for these conditions.

He's a very good player of spin: defensively solid, manoeuvres the strike, his footwork is very good.

Ben Foakes (Pic credit - BCCI)
Image: Ben Foakes top-scored with England with an assured 42 not out (Pic credit: BCCI)

He's come in as a reverse, effectively, and with most reserves, like Dan Lawrence at the moment, you're trying to give them time to find their feet. You don't necessarily expect them to be a readymade Test player in those conditions, but Foakes actually does look like that. It feel like he has played a lot more than he actually has.

India have still got nine wickets remaining in their second innings but while England obviously need to do as well as they can with the ball, it is all about the batsmen now.

When you've got that lead of 200, as India did on first innings, you see the ball ripping and spinning everywhere and the batsmen end up just playing shots and being ultra-positive which then gives a bit of a false economy on how tough the pitch is to bat on.

We're just waiting for England's batsmen to see how they deal with Ashwin and the like on that pitch second time around.

If they lose this match, England will just be desperate for conditions to suit them in the next couple of Tests, but that is not going to happen so they'll be desperate to win the toss, at least. They will need things to go in their favour, as you often do when you're playing overseas.

India will go into the third Test pretty buoyed but they were in England's position to some degree after the first Test. They won the toss, their key players performed in conditions that suit and straightaway all the rest is forgotten about. England will have to do the same.

Follow text commentary of day three of the second Test between India and England in Chennai on and the Sky Sports app from 3.50am on Monday.

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