Leach was whacked for five sixes by Rishabh Pant on a bruising day yesterday, but in a show of resilience and character, he was superb with the new ball at the beginning and end of a fourth day that England spent positioning themselves for a charge at victory tomorrow.
By bowling Rohit Sharma with a beautiful ball that fizzed past the outside edge, Leach gave England the first of the 10 wickets they need.
They were cautious in that aim, unwilling to risk a strong position built through domination of the opening three days. By being bowled out for 178 in their second innings – rather than making an aggressive declaration – England asked India to chase a record 420 at around four runs an over.
Earlier, England had enjoyed an efficient morning session, taking the final four wickets of India’s first innings at a cost of 80 runs, setting up a lead of 241, then opting to bat again.
Joe Root’s decision not to enforce the follow on was sensible, and very much in line with modern fashion. It allowed his bowlers to rest and for the pitch to deteriorate further. Turn, variable bounce and reverse swing will be England’s friends, and they still have a new ball first thing tomorrow.
India have a formidable batting lineup, bolstered by the return of Virat Kohli since chasing 329 in Brisbane last month, part of a global trend of impressive fourth innings victories. History shows that big chases are possible on this ground; India hauled down 387 in Chennai against England in 2008. The only player still around from that game, Ishant Sharma (who today took his 300th Test wicket), said at stumps – with India 39 for one – that India thought they could win this match, too. Even to survive, they will have to bat superbly.
All of this will have been on Root’s mind, as will the fact that this is the first of four Tests on a tour that can see things unravel fast. India have not lost a series at home in 2008.
So a little conservatism was understandable, but England batted longer than was expected, especially in a sleepy evening session. Ollie Pope had emerged after tea, with Jos Buttler for company, and appeared to be setting off on a charge for a declaration, by hitting his first ball through cover for four, then switch-hitting another. But after Pope was caught at cover trying the same ambitious stroke, England went into their shells, adding just 48 more runs in 18 overs.
India were negative, wasting time and bowling into the rough outside right-hander’s leg stump, but England were guilty of a lack of intent – especially as Buttler was in. When he was dismissed, stumped finally trying a slog, the last four wickets went down in a hurry. Ravichandran Ashwin – who had dismissed Rory Burns with the very first ball of the innings – finished with six for 61, his 28th Test five-fer.
That Root did not declare was curious given the way he had batted. He breezed to 40 from 32 balls, sweeping the spinners aggressively, before being pinned lbw by one that stayed low from Jasprit Bumrah. He now has 684 runs this year.
That Leach and James Anderson had shared the final four wickets of India’s first innings would have pleased Root greatly.
Leach arrested a fine Indian start to the day through Washington Sundar and Ashwin, who both fed on some loose bowling from Dom Bess, who took four wickets yesterday.
The runs continued to flow with the new ball, until Leach was brought back into the attack. His second ball dismissed Ashwin, caught by Buttler diving forward, then Shahbaz Nadeem edged to slip.
Anderson took the final two wickets, with Sharma bounced out, then Bumrah was caught at slip. It was a magnificent catch by Ben Stokes close in, the third brilliant take of England’s innings.
Sundar, playing his second Test, finished 85 not out, having launched Anderson and Root down the ground for gorgeous sixes. The presence of a talent like him at No7 perhaps explains why Root was so reticent to declare.