Thakur leads India fight back to leave honours even against England


hortly after tea on a sensational opening day of the Fourth LV= Insurance Test against India, when another skittish innings from Rishabh Pant ended with another poor shot, England were in dreamland.

Having asked India to bat, they had removed India’s shuffled top seven for just 127. Their battery of four seamers were all threatening. Having levelled things up at Headingley, the series was fizzing in their direction.

Over the next 90 minutes, little went to plan, and India ended the day in charge. The recalled No8, Shardul Thakur, launched a scintillating counter-attack, making 57 from 36 balls to carry India to 191.

Although they lost their final three wickets for one run when Thakur was dismissed, Jasprit Bumrah picked off both England’s openers in his second over. At five for two, Joe Root was joining a new No3 much earlier than England planned.

Root looked in supreme touch once more, but was dismissed for 21, his lowest score of the series by stumps, which England reached on 53 for three. Umesh Yadav’s beautiful nip-backer left the game right in the balance at the end of a 13-wicket day. England bat deep, and are just 138 behind on a wicket that should be good for batting.

England had done a lot right – but let a strong position slip. India, meanwhile, had spent the day making strange decisions. Most notable related to their spin-bowling all-rounders. Ravichandran Ashwin, remarkably, was omitted for the fourth match in a row. Ravi Jadeja, listed below Thakur at No8, appeared at No5, with India 39 for three. It appeared to show a camp beset by muddled thinking. They are a resilient bunch. Do not write them off.

Both captains would have bowled if they won the toss. Root was the lucky skipper but for the opening half-hour, Jimmy Anderson went looking for wickets with a very full length, and was punished, especially by KL Rahul on the drive.

After four overs for 20, Root called on Woakes, playing his first competitive red-ball match for more than a year. He was immediately on the money and a little lift saw Rohit Sharma caught behind in his opening over. He and the excellent Ollie Robinson bowled seven successive maidens. The last of them brought the wicket of KL Rahul lbw, and a review could not save the batting.

Out came Virat Kohli, bristling, so Root recalled Anderson, at the opposite end. He could not prise out Kohli – whose cover-driving was immense – but he picked up Cheteshwar Pujara for the fourth time in four first innings, all for single figures. It was a beauty, that Pujara could only feather behind. With Jadeja surprisingly keeping Kohli company, India made it to lunch three down.

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