As the Australians found to their cost in the winter, smirking too long at an Indian batting catastrophe only strengthens the backbone of this particular incarnation.
When they were bowled out for 36 in Adelaide in December – and lost Virat Kohli to paternity leave shortly afterwards – they simply stood up taller and prouder and took the game back to their hosts, resulting in a remarkable 2-1 series win.
And here at Headingley, having conceded a 354-run lead, they lost only one wicket in the best part of two sessions and only two in all on the third day as first, third and fourth vertebrae showed they were working in close to perfect order.
Even when Rohit Sharma was out just after tea, again failing to turn a fifty into a first Test century overseas, Cheteshwar Pujara joined forces with his captain to guide them through to the close with eight wickets still standing and considerably more than half the deficit expunged.
It left England, if not deeply concerned, at least mildly unsettled, reflecting perhaps that their middle and lower order had given up their wickets in too cavalier a fashion to allow India an earlier second use of this pitch than was ideal. Thoughts of an innings victory might have already given way to ones of a small but awkward chase, with India now only 139 runs from making them bat again.
England added only nine to their overnight score, Craig Overton palpably leg-before to the tireless Mohammed Shami, who deserved a fourth wicket from his 28 overs of toil. At the appearance of Jimmy Anderson in pads, Jasprit Bumrah was handed the ball but before he got an opportunity to renew hostilities from Lord’s, Ollie Robinson protectively turned down a single to long leg and then cleared his leg for a swipe and was bowled.
The home side seemed happy with their lot and it must have seemed a lot to India as they sat back and visualised the mountain they would have to climb. But they gathered themselves and, starting slowly, worked to give a better account of themselves, even though conditions favoured the ball – probably more so than on the first morning.
Anderson, of course, was as consistent as ever with enough movement to make the openers circumspect outside off stump but it was the seam deviation that Robinson and, later, Overton extracted that would have alarmed the tourists most.
KL Rahul laboured for 54 balls for eight, leaving more than his instincts would prefer, but was inclined to believe the umpire when a fuller ball from Robinson smacked into his front pad and he was given out. Discussing the chances of the decision being overturned on review with his partner, he left it to the last millisecond before being persuaded – and what a good option that was as the ball was shown to be scraping past leg stump.
Robinson would get luckier straight after tea when a similar appeal against Rohit was upheld, but Overton ensured Rahul would not have much more of a part to play when he found his edge on the chime of the lunch clock and had the batsman brilliantly taken by Jonny Bairstow diving one-handed to his left at second slip.
Pujara had the interval to ponder what might be a final Test innings but got some help in prolonging his career by some slightly wayward England bowling at the start of the second session. Anderson and Overton, the latter continuing a spell of ten overs split precisely between pre lunch and post, sought to get away swing from a line of middle and leg but the ball frustratingly failed to oblige. With Joe Root posting a short square leg and leg gully in addition to his three slips to intimidate the under-pressure batsman, Pujara was able to take advantage with a series of clips to the unguarded mid-wicket boundary.
That seemed to give impetus to the 33-year-old, who was earning his 88th cap but had not hit a fifty in 12 attempts since his 73 against England in the first innings of the first Test of the winter in Chennai. But he gradually grew into his innings and by the end of the day he was much more his old self, nine runs short of a 19th Test century, having hit 15 fours in a knock that had spanned 180 balls.
Rohit has struck all of his seven centuries at home and will feel that, despite averaging close to 47 in 41 matches, his status as a respected Test player is not thoroughly assured until he does it outside India. He went close at Lord’s, and a studied watchfulness applied to his usual languid strokemaking – he upper cut Robinson for six and hit seven fours besides – looked more than likely to take him to the landmark in Leeds.
However, when Robinson bowled his first over after the tea interval, he was hit on the pad as he tried to work another full one from the seamer to leg and was ruled in front. He didn’t need as much coaxing as Rahul to review but to his dismay the delivery was shown to be grazing the outside of leg stump and he was on his way for 59.
Much as Rohit wants an overseas century, Kohli needs a score of any sort, having himself gone 19 innings without a hundred, a time during which he has also amassed only three fifties.
Not long after his arrival, Anderson was brought back into the attack, a man who had got the Indian captain three times in four innings prior to this one. Root signalled his confidence in his leading bowler by immediately adding a fourth slip to the three already in situ. If it was a psychological battle, Kohli won it by responding with a lavish extra cover drive for four.
Kohli soon began to find his timing, allied to excellent judgment of what and what not to play outside off stump, and had moved to 31 with 45 minutes of play remaining when Root was informed by the umpires that the light was too poor for seamers to continue. Moeen was three overs into a second spell by now and Root opted to bowl in tandem with him rather than go off.
The England captain did turn one alarmingly through Kohli’s defences, although it bounced a little too much to flick the bails, but the Indian third-wicket pair milked the two off spinners for 31 runs in half an hour until the new ball became due. When Root signalled he was ready to take it, the action was curtailed a quarter of an hour early.
With Pujara’s excellent knock, his highest score in 36 innings since hitting Australia for 193 in Sydney in January 2019, and Kohli eyeing that elusive half-century – and you sense, a whole lot more – England know that they need to separate these two with the new ball first thing in the morning – unless they want to become victims of another example of this touring team’s spine.