After the early morning rain both captains will have had an aching in their heart, looking to steer their teams to victory, but hopefully no pockets full of sand. This excellent Test match has delivered excitement, entertainment and intrigue in equal measure, with no need for any other artificial drama. The rain passed and we started on time. England, through Root’s magnificence, held a slender 27-run lead and were looking to make inroads into the tourists before they could surge ahead. Virat Kohli will have been eyeing a challenging total to take advantage of the opportunity to bowl last, handed to them by Root on the first morning.
By 1pm, it was definitely England who had the spring in their step heading towards the lunchtime spread, having reduced India to 56 for three, effectively 29 for three. Mark Wood was their tormenter-in-chief, removing both openers before India had moved into credit. KL Rahul has left well this series, but feathered a sharp ball from short of a length to Jos Buttler. Rohit had belligerently pulled India level with a flat six smashed of Wood. Two balls later though, the equine destroyer delivered another short ball, 93mph. In the tradition of Oscar Wilde, it seems Rohit can resist anything except temptation and, just as he had done at Trent Bridge, skied to a tumbling Moeen Ali at deep square leg to leave India effectively 0 for two.
All eyes were on both Pujara and Kohli, both of whom have struggled to reach their own high standards on this tour. Pujara survived, his three off 46 balls making Dominic Sibley look like Usain Bolt. Virat will have wanted to stand toe to toe with Root, but having spent the best part of an hour creating a solid foundation, his house collapsed on 20.
Curran had rapped him on the knee roll with the last ball of his previous over, but his review was overturned. This time though, Kohli, perhaps expecting a ball to come back more than it did, presented the finest of edges to Buttler. The crowd exploded and the game was blown wide open in the process. After tauntingly informing James Anderson that this wasn’t his backyard, you could perhaps see England’s fast-bowling national treasure issue a wry smile, even if it wasn’t his wicket. He does have 110 at Lord’s though.
For Pujara and Rahane, the strategy was clearly one of crease occupation, taking time out of the game and moving India slowly towards setting a target to bowl at. The afternoon session may not have been electric “every ball counts” viewing but in the context of the game it was undeniably effective and no less compulsive. England tried everything including some Wood bodyline, Curran tempters and Ali spin enhanced with variously inventive field placing. All to no avail and by tea, India had progressed, albeit at a glacial rate, to 105 with not further loss.
Perhaps to shake themselves from their torpor, or simply due to some tiring limbs amongst England’s bowling ranks, both Pujara and Rahane struck early boundaries after tea, before settling back into their more attritional rhythm. Moen got a couple to turn quite sharply and the seamers were clearly seeing some variable bounce, but in the first hour of the session just one chance was forthcoming. Rahane airily cut to point where Bairstow dived low to his right, but couldn’t cling on. A sharp chance indeed, but one Bairstow will feel he should have taken and potentially very costly for his team.
As events transpired, however, while dusk drew nigh and the new ball will have been on Root’s mind, England’s relentlessness found threefold reward. Wood got a ball to rise sharply off a length to Pujara who could only fend it to Root at gully for the easiest of catches. Rahane’s luck ran out and he edged Ali to Buttler, and there was to be no repeat of Jadeja’s first innings knock as another turning beauty from Ali was simply too good for his defence. In Jadeja’s case, the nature of the dismissal might just have provided encouragement for tomorrow as much as disappointment today.
With Wood hurting his shoulder as he dived to save a boundary – there is doubt about what part he will play on the final day – England switched to spin entirely as they sought to grab the final four wickets in the last half hour. However, as the clouds massed and Virat Kohli, seated on the India balcony and waving manically with righteous indignation as if trying to draw someone’s attention – that of the umpires? – to the state of the light, the end was called.
At the Home of Cricket, then, we have a five-day Test, quite beautifully poised with all results possible. Will India regret the absence of one R Ashwin? Pant is still at the crease. Will he unleash early morning fury alongside the tail to test England to the limit? With the lead on 154 and given the fallibility in England’s batting, how much is a comfortable chase, if indeed we haven’t already passed that?
England are favourites but all results are possible. It’s beautiful, beguiling and unmissable, so enjoy it with us from 10.45 UK time tomorrow on Guerilla Cricket. Don’t be late.