Titanic tussle turns India’s way as Rishabh Pant makes England pay for selection sabotage

In the most exciting day of the Test series so far, India and England wrestled for supremacy of the fourth Test, the overall result of the series, and ultimately India’s place in the World Test Championship Final. This was Test cricket at its most theatrical, complete with a three-act story, an all-star cast and a cavernous venue in the shape of the Modi Dome. All framed by the opal of the Sabarmati River.

The day started attritionally, with Cheteshwar Pujara digging himself in for what looked as though it could be a long stay. However, for the fourth time this series, Jack Leach was able to find a way to dislodge the barnacle-esque Pujara, who must now be entering bunny territory for the England spinner.

This wicket ignited an England comeback in the second hour as, at the other end, Ben Stokes put in a titanic effort, delivering a ten-over spell in 38-degree heat to try and force further breakthroughs. Whilst it was not obviously apparent at the time, this was Root’s big gamble as he burned through Stokes’ energy reserves in pursuit of more Indian wickets, using the all-rounder to spearhead a kind of cricketing blitzkrieg.

For a while, a long while, it looked like it was working. Stokes picked up the vital wicket of the Indian captain, who displayed his usual grace and humility upon being dismissed. Anderson nicked off Rahane on the stroke of lunch. Then Stokes, again, summoned some of his totemic freak magic to produce the ball of the day to dismiss Rohit Sharma with a booming inswinger.

Rohit, who had compiled a very un-Rohit like, but vital, 49 was a little aggrieved to have been given out, and he may have had a point. His review showed that the decision was the umpire’s call both on height, and whether it struck him outside the line. Nonetheless the quality of the ball surely merited a wicket, and we can only assume that the umpire ascribes to ideas of cricketing karma as he raised the finger to send the Indian opener back to the dressing room.

With India teetering, and the afternoon session wearing on, the English storm finally began to break. This is where England’s contentious selection decisions began to take their toll, in what will surely be remembered as a dreadful act of self-sabotage. It turned out, much as expected, that Dom Bess was not in a fantastic state to be playing Test cricket. His public dropping, followed by England’s public request that Moeen Ali stay on for two more Tests, followed by his omission from the side in the third Test, unsurprisingly robbing him of all confidence.

Bess’ underperformance and the fact that Stokes had turned a shade of puce which suggested that he might require an imminent medical intervention, left Root dangerously short of options, and the game began to drift back towards India. Leading this fightback was the undisputed star of the day, Rishabh Pant.

Initially Pant was reasonably quiet, comfortable to accumulate, as England’s exhausted bowlers were unable to prevent him and Washington Sundar milking them for singles. Then England took the new ball. And things changed.

First ball of Anderson’s spell, Pant advanced down the wicket, and lofted the veteran England seamer back over his head for four runs. This was followed a ball later by an equally audacious carve through the covers. To complete the act, a couple of overs later, Pant bent down on one knee to half reverse-sweep, half scoop Anderson over the slips for another four. England had no answers to questions few besides Pant can even pose, and he soon reached his century (via a huge six, because, why not?)

After reaching this milestone, he only added one more before belting a short ball from Anderson to Root at mid-wicket, but the damage had been done. A shell-shocked England staggered through to the end of the day to speculate ruefully on what could have been. Facing an 89-run deficit, and still requiring three Indian wickets, the game is surely beyond them at this point.

Whatever the shape of India’s inevitable win, Guerilla Cricket will be with you from before the crack of dawn tomorrow morning, talking you through the day.

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