INDIA’s fight-back on day three of this fourth and final Test in Nagpur has the match superbly poised
It may have been slow going, especially in the morning session, when a combination of the slow pitch, disciplined batting and accurate bowling restricted India to only 59 runs in 32 overs, but the efforts of Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Virat Kohli rescued India from ignominy.
It may not be enough to force victory as India are still 33 behind with two first-innings wickets remaining but it has given them a chance. The key will be England’s second innings. If they can bat well and long, they will secure the draw and with it a 2-1 series win.
However, any wobble today and the Indians will sniff a chance of redemption and a tied series.
Momentum is so vital in sport and it will be England’s job to ensure India do not get any.
The day was fascinating. At the beginning it was like two boxers circling each other, neither prepared to take even the slightest of risks that might offer an opening. The curious part was the lack of overs for James Anderson, although his grimaces later in the day when running in suggested a hamstring niggle.
Both Kohli and Dhoni were under pressure, the former as one of the new brigade of talent which has under-performed in the series and the latter as a rather ineffectual captain whose last glory was the 50-over world cup 20 months ago.
They needed a partnership, for themselves as well as the team.
Both were watchful, content – like Joe Root had been for England – to occupy the crease. The afternoon session was more productive and Kohli offered a couple of glorious cover drives that demonstrated his ability. He can certainly bat and, as he showed in Australia last winter, is up for the battle. Recently, however, he had not being batting for long enough.
Never did he and Dhoni dominate, though, as Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann wheeled through the overs, allowing Tim Bresnan and occasionally Anderson to search for reverse swing in bursts.
Unlike the previous day, swing was elusive. The pitch, in fact, was probably playing at its best of the match thus far. It was slow and still low but had not broken up or deteriorated at all and that should encourage England as they embark on their second innings.
The breakthroughs, when they eventually came, were due to England’s superior fitness and ability to adapt.
Immediately after a long drinks break that preceded the final hour Swann went round the wicket to Kohli and turned one neatly into the pad. The finger went up for lbw and that was the end of a superb century by Kohli.
It was England’s first wicket of the day and yet such had been their discipline been that never had their heads dropped nor their standards slipped to allow India to break away and seize the game. The rewards soon followed as Anderson pestered Ravindra Jadeja from round the wicket, finally winning an lbw appeal and then Dhoni, on 99 and short of strike pushed hard to mid-off and scampered through for a single and a century.
The problem was Anderson who, as the bowler at the end of his follow-through, did not move to give him a straight run and the extra step needed to move round him allowed Alastair Cook time at mid-off to pick up cleanly and hit the stumps for a brilliant run-out.
When Swann completed the day by bowling Piyush Chalwa in the final over, India had lost four wickets in 14 overs.
It was a passage of play that possibly altered India’s gameplan. Without those dismissals Dhoni would have happily batted for a lead of 100 or more and piled pressure on the England batsmen to survive. Ravichandran Ashwin could still do that if the final two tailenders support him but England would find it easy to give him singles and bowl at the others for wickets or to take time out of the game.
The match and series will still be decided by England’s second innings.
If they can bat for four sessions or more, a series triumph in India would compare with recent Ashes victories.