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Monday, September 27, 2021

India vs England: Batsmen make merry as fourth Test hangs in balance

After below-par scores, India put a big total on board to set England a target of 368; hosts begin chase strongly.

Written by Shamik Chakrabarty |
Updated: September 6, 2021 3:25:20 pm
England's Rory Burns and Haseeb Hameed in action as India's Ravindra Jadeja looks on during the fourth Test. (Reuters)

Possibility 1: An India win. They have the scoreboard pressure aiding them.

Possibility 2: A draw. That’s where the smart money will be, because both sides can exercise the option to shut up shop.

Possibility 3: An England win. An outside chance, for they aren’t always good at handling pressure.

That’s how it stands after the fourth day of the fourth Test. England ended at 77 for no loss, chasing 368 for victory.

Another 291 runs needed in a minimum of 90 overs on the final day.

The highest successful chase at this venue is 263, England trumping Australia in 1902, when Sherlock Holmes was still at the peak of his powers. The great fictional character thrived on scientific detection. Maybe, a soil scientist is needed to assess the Oval pitch, as even after four days it has remained free of wear and tear.

India bowled 32 overs in the final session. England openers Rory Burns and Haseeb Hameed seldom looked troubled. The key was to see off the new ball. Once the ball gets older and softer, batting here is looking the easiest job in the world, so much so that earlier in the day Jasprit Bumrah was emboldened enough to late cut a Moeen Ali off-break. A batsman needs to be completely out of form like Ajinkya Rahane to fail twice on this pitch.

Virat Kohli India’s Virat Kohli, second left, leads his team off the pitch at close of play on day four of the fourth Test match at The Oval cricket ground in London, Sunday, Sept. 5, 2021. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

This England team is not a confident fourth innings chaser. Their home series against New Zealand in June showed that. The second Test against India at Lord’s confirmed that. To win this game, they have to achieve their highest-ever target. England have begun well through a steady opening partnership, a prerequisite for chasing a big total. But Joe Root and company have miles to go before they celebrate.

India pin their hopes on Ravindra Jadeja. The left-arm spinner was brought on early, the rough outside the left-hander’s off stump being his target area. The first ball he bowled turned sharply. But Jadeja couldn’t hit the target consistently. On a belter, India missed Ravichandran Ashwin’s mastery in the air.

As the day drew to a close, puffs of dusts started to come out from footmarks and wicketkeeper Rishabh Pant found his voice. Kohli shrewdly brought on a silly point against Burns, restricting his front-foot play. But to exploit the rough better, Jadeja needs to raise his game. For the fast bowlers, it would be more about getting reverse swing. On Sunday, Mohammed Siraj got a couple of deliveries to reverse, bowling with two mid-wickets against Hameed. The latter had a narrow escape, when he played inside the line and somehow managed a thin edge.

Lower-order resolve

Even in its batting-friendliness, this match is heading for an exciting finish and Shardul Thakur deserves credit for that. His half-century in the first innings kept his team in the game. On Sunday, after three quick wickets and India at 312/7, he once again made his presence felt, adding 100 runs for the seventh wicket with Pant. Another half-century was added to his tally and the finest part was the way he planned and paced his innings, 53 per cent of his runs coming in the ‘V’, attesting smart and risk-free cricket.

ALSO READWith stroke-making riches, Shardul Thakur makes a case for filling Pandya-shaped hole

Pant scoring a half-century was another positive. Application and control characterised his innings, something that had been missing from his batting in this series. In good batting conditions, the left-hander trusts his defence. So there was no mindless charge down the track. Rather, he left a lot of balls, took time and backed himself. It would be a little premature to say that he has returned to form, for the fifth Test at Old Trafford – a venue that offers lateral movement to fast bowlers – would be a sterner test. But for the time being, the weight is off his shoulders.

Similarly, it would be a tad early to talk about the middle-order resurrection despite a 400-plus total under real pressure. A collective effort notwithstanding, issues remain. Rahane is the biggest of them. Like the first innings, he was given out once by the on-field umpire – overturned on review – before being dismissed eventually. Chris Woakes accounted for him with an incoming delivery, as Rahane tried to play it towards mid-wicket. The India vice-captain has 109 runs from seven innings, while Thakur has 117 from two. Little wonder that meme-makers on social media went on overdrive.

Jadeja at No. 5 has looked a couple spots too high, while Kohli’s conversion mojo seems to have deserted him. The stage was set for a hundred. He was untroubled and the nick to a Moeen Ali straighter one came against the run of play. Kohli hasn’t scored a Test century since November 2019. This was his best chance.

The Indian batting unit, however, wore down the England bowlers. James Anderson bowled 33 overs in this innings. Ollie Robinson and Woakes bowled 32 overs each. Anderson so far has bowled 163.3 overs in this series and Robinson 166.2 – serious workload, with the final Test starting in three days.

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