The Indian openers were yet to start their walk down the pavilion stairs. On the field Alastair Cook had arranged his fielders and James Anderson, after his trial run, was on top of his bowling mark. While taking each step down the slope, the uphill task ahead would have weighed on the minds of Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan. England had set India a victory target of 445 but that seemed beyond them. Vijay and Dhawan would have taken field thinking of surviving the 132 overs that still remained in the game.
Breaking down the task ahead made it look less threatening. Casual calculations showed that each batsmen would need to score 40 runs for an incredible win or play 72 balls to pull off an unbelievable draw. Very early it was clear that Dhawan wasn’t told to do a Virender Sehwag and this wasn’t going to be a repeat of Chennai ‘08 where India chased down 387. This was Southampton and 445 seemed just as far as Chepauk from here.
In the space of 8 balls, forget the target, even the time for stumps on Thursday seemed light years away. Things would go from bad to worse — 26/0 would change to 29/2. As batsmen, after surviving Anderson and Stuart Broad with the new ball, kept succumbing to the off-spin of Moeen Ali or Joe Root, India found themselves in a hole at 112/4.
Now, they need 333 for a win and if they can negotiate 90 overs the game can still be drawn.
It all started when India, still on the foothills, first lost a Sherpa and then their oxygen cylinder. First Vijay was incorrect in judging and then slow in reacting to a single from the non-striker’s end. Broad’s throw from short square leg beat a lunging, but not diving, Vijay. In the next over, Pujara was to follow him back to the hut. He fell to off-spinner Moeen Ali, who was actually brought into the attack to exploit the rough outside left-hander Dhawan’s off stump.
Playing for the turn, Pujara edged a straighter one into the hands of the strapping Chris Jordan at slips. The men who India expected to play those 132 overs would watch the game from the dressing room. Now, on field were men more suited to the difficult task of taking India to 445. But both Virat Kohli and Dhawan haven’t been in that kind of form this series.
Kohli edged Ali to Joss Buttler, while Dhawan fell to Root. For the English fans, it was a perfect day. After two entertaining sessions, they got to watch a enthralling period of play that came with the promise of an early England win on the final day.
For those who had entered the gate at the start of the first session, it was like coming to the gig while the stage was being set and the sound crew still checking the acoustics. It was common knowledge that the real show would start when the Indians would bat for the second time.
Since the Indian second innings commenced only after tea, the Rose Bowl was relaxed for the first couple of sessions. The kiosks around the venue also received a steady flow of customers all day. The fans could afford to take a break in between overs since the action on the field wasn’t intense. At lunch, the very popular curry place ‘Taste of India’ didn’t have a serpentine queue like most days.
Today the spectators constantly strolled behind the temporary stands between overs and picked their samosas, chose their dips and return to the seats. When back, they put up their feet and watched some stress-free cricket. In fact, the English fans never really did have to be on the edge of their seats on Day Four of this Test match.
Anderson just needed eight and two balls respectively to dismiss the overnight pair of MS Dhoni and Mohammed Shami. Yet, England didn’t enforce the follow-on. The experts questioned the decision but Cook preferred to hear the plea of his tired bowlers over the voices at Test Match Special on the radio.
So with 239 runs ahead and over 170 overs left in the game, England were back on the blocks for a measured sprint. They couldn’t afford to eat too much into the overs but at the same time they had to bloat up the runs to scare India away.
The fans enjoyed this phase of play the most. England hit 27 four and six in the 40.4 overs they batted. Fall of wickets didn’t matter as long as the run rate was high. Gary Ballance’s dancing-down-the-track six off Rohit Sharma, Ian Bell’s savage pull to a Pankaj Singh short ball, Joe Root’s Dilscoop off Bhuvneshwar Kumar made for a nice ‘T20’ exhibition bang in the middle of a Test match.
Unaffected by this madness, though, was Cook. For the England captain, the new-found Test form was far too sacred. He couldn’t afford to pollute it.
The crowd would soon bore of the hits. England’s lead had soared to 400 plus. The drunk in Row Z was now restless. “Vaughan says, ‘declare’,” he often shouted. Cook soon obliged but only after Root was bowled after a quick-fire fifty. He then returned to the field with his troops. And after pushing India to the brink in the final session, he swaggered back to the dressing room. Southampton has given him both runs and a strut.