England were staring down the barrel of defeat as India increased their lead to 416 on day three of the second Test in Chennai.
Having been dismissed for 134 in their first innings on a pitch offering lavish turn, the idea of pulling off a record fourth-innings chase in the same conditions seems fanciful.
Ashwin's five wickets had already helped define the first half of the match and the decorated off-spinner will expect to play another key role when he swaps bat for ball at some point in the evening session.
Even more impressive was wicketkeeper Ben Foakes, who marked his 28th birthday by showing on the big stage just why he is rated one of the best wicketkeepers in the world.
Having already top-scored from number seven on his first appearance in two years, the Surrey man completed two brilliant stumpings and an early run out on a pitch that made standing up to the stumps a desperately tricky affair.
With one earlier stumping already in the bag, Foakes became the first England keeper since Alan Knott in 1968 to take three in a match. The rested Jos Buttler, by way of contrast, has one in 50 caps.
England started the day 249 behind but quickly scooped up three for 11 to raise their spirits.
The next two relied on Foakes, who took the chance to show off his technician's credentials to give Leach two assists.
The first saw the wicketkeeper play the role of ultimate opportunist, collecting at shoulder height as the ball zipped past Rohit Sharma's defence and flicking the bails in one smooth movement as he over-balanced.
Rishabh Pant was next, the left-hander cut in two as the ball ripped through the gate. Foakes started well outside off stump but scampered across to take it cleanly down the leg side, parting the stumps as it settled in his gloves.
The tumble of wickets stopped when Kohli was joined by Ashwin, with the pair gradually prising the enthusiasm from their opponents over the course of a 96-run stand.
One uppish drive notwithstanding, Kohli was on a mission to avenge his day one duck. He watched the ball furiously, played late in front of his eyes and scored with real assuredness on a surface that rewards only the very best methods.
Ashwin had his own way, using a big stride to smother the turn and scoring well with the sweep. Both men passed 50 in the afternoon session, Ashwin for the sixth time in a match where he also boasted a five-for.
Kohli was undone by Moeen for the second time in the match, a tight lbw decision high on the knee roll, and the all-rounder struck Kuldeep Yadav in front of middle to claim a fourth.
But the lead had passed 400, well beyond the record chase in India – 387 here in Chennai – and just shy of the biggest ever.