England outmuscle India to set up tantalising final day of fifth Test
or the third Test in a row, the final day is tantalisingly poised, and there will be a very good crowd to watch it. For the fourth Test in a row, England have a chance of pulling off a remarkable chase.
Chasing a record 378, they are 259 for three, with the best batter in the world, Joe Root (76*), and the form batter in the world, Jonny Bairstow (72*), having shared another unbeaten 151 together. They have navigated a wobble, where they lost their top three for two runs in 16 balls fiercely-fought balls either side of tea, and would have been the more disappointed of the two sides to have to take a break tonight.
Against New Zealand last month, they chased 277 and 299 five down, then 295 three down, and are in a rich vein of form. The pitch has misbehaved at times, but not much in this fourth innings. A second (formal) new ball remains a hypothetical issue.
India’s captain, Jasprit Bumrah, has bowled superbly, but the rest of his attack has been middling, and the fields and fielding have been awry. There is everything chance that Bumrah leads a spirited fightback tomorrow, but England will be the happier of the two sides.
The crowd on the fourth day was big, and beautifully split with thousands of fans of each team. Just as they did at Trent Bridge, who should take credit for starting the trend, and then Headingley, Warwickshire and Edgbaston made the decision to make the final day free, with an optional charity donation (for the Bob Willis Fund). Ninety minutes later, all 21,000 tickets were gone.
For almost two sessions, England had a superb day. They were not entirely batted out of the game by India, who lost their last seven wickets for 92, mainly quite carelessly to the telegraphed short-ball strategy.
The rot set in when Cheteshwar Pujara cut Stuart Broad straight to point, then Rishabh Pant, who had been dropped on 45 by Zak Crawley at second slip, was taken by Root at slip off Jack Leach. Matt Potts bounced out Shreyas Iyer and Shardul Thakur, who was also hit on the helmet. Either side of lunch, captain Ben Stokes cleaned up the tail, with the short stuff working once more.
England’s chase was vast, but their recent form meant they were not fearful. Alex Lees, especially, but also Crawley, feeling for form, got them off to a flyer. Lees was extremely aggressive, whether smearing Shami for four, or launching Jadeja’s first ball down the ground. When he saw Jadeja warming up, he shadow-batted his slog-sweep and reverse-sweep.
Crawley was the more cautious starter, unusually patient, picking off singles and waiting for India to bowl at him. As the shine wore off, though, he located his drive, especially to the change seamers Shardul Thakur and Mohammed Siraj.
Lees and Crawley whacked 53 from the first nine overs, then put on England’s fastest ever opening century partnership in Tests. For a moment, India looked rattled.
Bumrah brought himself back, because he had to. He got one to tail back into Crawley, who had left so diligently, but was bowled this time. India went spare and, as the players left the field for tea an over later, Kohli exchanged very terse words with Lees.
First ball after tea, Bumrah just got Ollie Pope to nibble outside off stump, and he was gone for a duck, the first of his Test career. The India fans were raucous, and even more so when Root and Lees suffered a mix-up in Jadeja’s next over. Root called Lees, the striker, through when he was unsighted. Shami smartly through to the nonstriker’s, and Lees was run out by a mile.
Suddenly, it felt rather like the last Test of this strange series 10 months ago. Then, with a big chase in front of them, England put on 100 for the first wicket, before a collapse that included a run out. The top three was different, but the feeling was the same.
Root and Bairstow were unperturbed. Root, owing his team for Lees’ run out, zipped along, while Bairstow played himself in again. Bairstow was dropped, on 14, by Hanuma Vihari standing too close at slip, but was ticking by stumps, taking on a misguided short-ball strategy.
He extended his run of scores of 70-plus to five, and has put England in a position of strength going into the final day. If he is still there at the end, England will surely have levelled the series.