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England closes in on series-levelling victory

Set a massive 445, India loses its way against Ali, Root to end penultimate day on 112 for 4

England closes in on series-levelling victory - Cricket News
Alastair Cook plays a shot.

Only eight times in more than 80 years of Test cricket had India batted 130 overs or more in the fourth innings. Set 445 – 27 more than any team has ever chased successfully – to win the third Test at the Ageas Bowl in Southampton, it was in disarray at stumps on the penultimate day on Wednesday (July 30). And for once, it wasn’t James Anderson or Stuart Broad doing the damage. A run-out saw off M Vijay, who had batted time better than anyone in the series, and wickets for Moeen Ali and Joe Root edged England closer to a first Test win in 11 matches. At stumps, India was 333 adrift of a target it was never likely to pursue as it finished on 122 for 4.

Indian frustration was compounded by the fact that it had pretty much seen off the new-ball threat. Anderson and Broad had bowled 11 overs without much luck or reward, and Chris Woakes had just come on at the Pavilion End. Shikhar Dhawan played a short ball to the leg side and set off after a moment’s hesitation. By the time Vijay got into his running stride, Broad was swooping down to collect the ball. His underarm throw dislodged the bails with Vijay inches short.

Seven balls later, Cheteshwar Pujara, another capable of playing the long innings, was on his way. Drawn forward by a ball that hardly turned, only the second that Ali bowled, he looked back to see the thick outside edge brilliantly pouched low to his right by Chris Jordan at slip.

Dhawan and Virat Kohli rebuilt through a combination of authentic drives and streaky edges, but Ali was a constant menace, especially when he landed the ball in the bowlers’ footmarks. Woakes kept things tight, while Jordan bowled with far better rhythm than in the first innings.

The partnership was worth 51 when Dhawan, who never looked at ease against the turning ball, fell to Root. Alastair Cook gave him just a two-over spell, and the last ball was edged to slip, where Jordan grasped the chance without fuss.  And India’s day went from poor to atrocious when Kohli, who hasn’t crossed 39 in six innings, hung his bat out at a ball that Ali tossed up outside off stump. The thin edge was superbly taken by Jos Buttler. Had Anderson held on to a low chance to his left on his followthrough when Rohit Sharma had made just five, England would have gone in even happier.

It had needed just 4.1 overs to wrap up the Indian first innings in the morning for 330. MS Dhoni failed to add to his overnight 50, top-edging Anderson behind, and Mohammed Shami couldn’t get his gloves out of the way of another bouncer that followed him. Anderson finished with 5 for 53.

With a lead of 239, Cook and Sam Robson started fairly circumspectly. Robson played two handsome cover drives, but was then caught at first slip as he attempted a third off Bhuvneshwar Kumar. Cook took his time to play himself in, but Gary Ballance kept the scoreboard ticking with some well-placed strokes on either side of the wicket. He also drilled the ball with power down the ground, including one that cleared the rope off Rohit.

For the second time in the match, India needed luck to see the back of him. On the stroke of lunch, Jadeja spun one into the pads. The ball went on to strike the thigh pad as well before Pujara held it at short leg.

Ian Bell, who had spent most of the third day off the field with a bruised thumb, came in and showed few signs of discomfort as he stroked 23 off just 21 balls before being bowled behind his legs by Jadeja.

Cook too accelerated after lunch, piercing the offside field and working the ball off his pads as the runs started to flow. Root took a few minutes to get his eye in, but was then a blur of drives, cuts and pulls as India’s bowlers took a pummelling. He and Cook added 99 in just 86 balls before Jadeja bowled him, prompting Cook to sprint back to the pavilion with an imposing target set.

England needed just 40.4 overs to score 205. Cook was unbeaten on 70, his second half-century of the match, while the luckless Pankaj Singh finished with match figures of 0 for 179. Both Bhuvneshwar and Shami went at six an over in the second innings, a hiding that pretty much summed up India’s wretched day.   

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