At the start of day four, this match was superbly poised: advantage India, but all results possible.
India resumed on 270 for three, a lead of 171, and a healthy platform to build from, with their captain, Virat Kohli, looking assured on 22 and Ravi Jadeja on nine. England, for their part, will have known that early wickets were needed and they still had a new ball in their hands.
They might also have had a concerned eye on previous fourth innings statistics at the Oval. The highest successful run chase in 102 Tests here is 263 – as long ago as 1902 – and although that score has been exceeded on seven occasions in the fourth innings, none of those resulted in wins for the team batting last. Srinivasaraghavan Vernkatarghavan's India piled on as many as 429 for eight in 1979, but still fell eight runs short of a famous victory against Mike Brearley's England.
In the event England's bowling was tidy enough, but it took until the ninth over to draw Indian blood. Valuable time, in which Kohli and Jadeja played without risk, conscious of taking ever more shine and hardness from that new ball. In truth, a benign Oval pitch and blue September skies were doing little to encourage Jimmy Anderson and Ollie Robinson. So once again it was Chris Woakes who was left to make the breakthrough, trapping Jadeja lbw, replays confirming it was pad first and the ball would have hit off stump.
As is so often the way, one brings two and Ajinkya Rahane has been in wretched form, barring his 61 at Lord's. No further runs had been added when he, too, went lbw to Woakes – perhaps trying to explore his mid-wicket options a little early in his innings.
With five down and the lead 197 it was very much game on. Could England keep India down to a chaseable total? They will have thought so when Moeen Ali soon grabbed the crucial wicket of Kohli. The India captain had looked solid rather than fluid in reaching 44, but in Moeen's first over he pushed at a ball on an off-stump line. There was no movement, it slid on and the edge dropped into the meaty hands of Craig Overton at slip.
From lunch onwards, though, India seized command as the game swung back their way again, England not helping themselves with some sloppy fielding, including a missed run-out.
Rishabh Pant, rather uncharacteristically, provided the foundation around which Shardul Thakur, Umesh Yadav and Jasprit Bumrah all made rapid lower-order runs. Thakur's 60 came off 72 balls as he bettered his first innings 57 in a partnership worth exactly 100 with Pant. When Robinson tried a slower ball, an off-cutter, he was launched majestically for six and there were seven other fours for the right-hander. The carnage halted only when Joe Root brought himself on and he duly drew the edge and the ball dropped again into the Overton buckets.
Two runs and four balls later, Pant reached his own fifty but in trying to launch Moeen over long-off, he flat-batted the ball back to the off spinner, who took a sharp catch.
Bumrah joined the fun with his 24, before pulling Woakes to Moeen at mid-on and Umesh Yadav powered two sixes in his quickfire 25, but Kohli, back in his whites and no doubt relishing the opportunity to take centre stage with a declaration, was denied by Umesh, who sliced Moeen to Overton, now defensively placed at cover.
India's 466 and the manner of its making was a fair reflection of conditions that frustrated England's attack. Woakes once again had been the pick of the bowlers, with his three for 83. Remarkably, in Tests in England, only Sir Garry Sobers has a better difference between his batting average and bowling average among players who have taken at least 50 wickets.
England's target was 368 to win. Perhaps unlikely, but a required run rate of 2.92 an over leaving just a sliver of a chance. On what is a new-ball pitch India needed to strike early, but Burns and Hameed progressed serenely enough, seeing off Bumrah and Umesh with relative comfort in the first seven overs, which went for just 11 runs. It was therefore no surprise when Jadeja was introduced in the eighth over and immediately got one to jump at the left-handed Burns out of the rough. From there, the left-arm spinner bowled through to the close as Kohli rotated his seamers from the Pavilion End.
As Jadeja continued to threaten, Burns found himself with four close fielders for company as he watchfully and determinedly dealt with everything, although he was close to being run out when Suryakumar Yadav, one of two substitute fielders, reacted instantly to return Burns' clip to short leg back towards the stumps. Fortunately for the batsman he missed, although he had probably got home, and Burns helped himself to two overthrows.
England had emerged unscathed, Hameed the more fluid of the two, on 43, as the target required on the final day was reduced to 291.
As Ravi Ashwin looks on, perhaps with some envy, Jadeja will undoubtedly be in the spotlight. Winviz has the draw at 45%, an Indian win at 33% and an England win the longest shot at 22%. That feels about right, but early wickets or lack of them, will continue to hold the attention throughout what promises to be an unmissable final day. The batsman-friendly Oval pitch may yet have its say.