England 161 and 23 for 0 need 498 runs to beat India 329 and 352 for 7 dec (Kohli 103, Pujara 72, Pandya 52*)
After carrying the weight of India’s batting over the last five-and-a-half Tests, Virat Kohli brought up a comfortable century, Cheteshwar Pujara found some form, and Hardik Pandya added a run-a-ball fifty to his five-for on a day that India batted England into the ground. With two days still to go, India batted to their heart’s content, taking the lead to 520 before giving England nine overs to bat in the evening.
India could afford to take their time. Kohli eased his way to the fourth slowest of his 23 Test centuries, now the joint-fourth highest tally for India. After the year he has had, who will grudge him one without any drama? There was some drama, though, as James Anderson, with whom Kohli is having an epic duel this series, nearly got him on 93. Keaton Jennings dropped the chance at fourth slip, making it 12 misses in the cordon against fast bowlers for England. That was not even the biggest concern for England on the day: Jonny Bairstow had earlier fractured his left middle finger when a ball from Anderson wobbled late on him. He spent the day watching India bat with his finger on ice.
The third day had begun with India ahead by 292, a rare chance to bat with no pressure and to find their methods against the England bowlers. KL Rahul and Shikhar Dhawan had already scored comfortable runs on the second evening. It was the turn of Pujara and the rest.
England’s bowlers didn’t throw in the towel though. They still bowled to plans. They still refused to dish up bad balls. Their fielding was a different story. The only way to delay the declaration and deny India confidence was to get wickets. Anderson created the first chance in the ninth over of the day, but Jos Buttler dropped Pujara at second slip. In the next over, he beat Kohli on the outside and the inside edge. In the over after that he hit Bairstow’s finger. Thus ended another luckless spell of 7-3-7-0.
In the second hour, Kohli began to lift his strike rate. You couldn’t tell if you were not looking at the scoreboard, though. His was such an efficient innings. A steer here, a closed face of the bat there, a loose ball from Adil Rashid every now and then, and Kohli had gone from 22 off 57 to 54 off 96 at lunch. In more laboured fashioned, Pujara brought up his first fifty in his last 23 first-class innings in the country. The relief was palpable.
In the second session, Kohli pushed his tempo some more before slowing down near the hundred, which is okay once in a while. Pujara, though, missed out on a great chance to register a hundred in England. He got out to a good ball, around the fourth stump, moving away, taking the edge. Also, Alastair Cook held on to the catch, which, at England’s success rate of 54% for the cordon against the quicks, is basically bad luck.
Kohli didn’t have such bad luck when Anderson, grumpy and unhappy with the shape of the second new ball, drew a thick edge from a big drive. It was going straight into Jennings’ lap when he decided to go low and let the ball through between hands and gut. At least he was not dealt a painful blow. Slips don’t wear a box either.
Anderson was left on his haunches. By the time Kohli fell lbw to Chris Woakes, Anderson had bowled 212 balls to Kohli this series for just 86 runs but no wicket, when he could have had him caught twice. Kohli has been determined not to get out to the man who tormented him on his last tour of England. He has made the odd mistake – batting is rarely perfect – but his determination is evident from his strike rate of just 40 against Anderson.
The rest of the day went in speculation over when India would declare. Those speculating furiously might have missed out on a stroke-filled half-century from Pandya. Even R Ashwin came out to bat. The runs didn’t matter. It seemed India had a certain number of overs in mind they wanted England to face. That number was nine.
However, Cook and Jennings, the two England players most under the pump right now for their batting and fielding failures – managed to survive. The fourth morning might not bring relief for England, though: in this series, India have been the most threatening with the ball after around 10 overs.