India didn’t help its cause with two dropped catches, poor positioning of the slip cordon and some lackadaisical outfielding. Varun Aaron, who bowled with pace and menace, and R Ashwin, unlucky not to get more than the two wickets, were the pick of the bowlers, with Ishant Sharma also more of a threat after lunch. Bhuvneshwar Kumar picked up his 19th wicket of the series, having Chris Woakes caught down the legside, but was well down on pace and nowhere near as accurate as he had been earlier in the series. His first delivery with the second new ball was timed at 74.7mph.
There had been very little encouragement for India in the opening session, once Aaron had sneaked a fast, full ball past Sam Robson’s statuesque waft. Ballance, the most prolific batsman in the series, batted as he had done right through, with an almost-watertight defence and ruthlessness against the loose ball. Cook was far scratchier, but still cut and pulled with some authority when the bowlers erred in line and length.
By lunch, England had reached India’s total of 148, and the period shortly after the interval was ample illustration of India’s slip-catching woes. First, M Vijay put down Cook at first slip when he had made 65 – a chance to his right – and then it was Ashwin’s turn to be dismayed as Ajinkya Rahane grassed one to his left at second slip.
Cook was on 70 at the time, but he couldn’t really make India pay. Aaron, who had bowled himself close to exhaustion, finally induced another edge and this time Vijay held on to a low chance. That precipitated something of a collapse. Ballance, relatively untroubled till then, tapped Ashwin straight to silly point to be out for 64, and Ian Bell made just 7 before inswing and a hint of away movement from Ishant got the edge through to MS Dhoni.
Moeen Ali stroked a couple of elegant fours through the leg side, but was flummoxed by an Ashwin delivery that bounced up to take the edge of a bat that was being withdrawn. At that stage, England was 229 for 5, a lead of just 81. But the second new ball, instead of providing further breakthroughs, only led to a torrent of runs. Bhuvneshwar was insipid, while Aaron looked like someone who had little left to give. Root played some glorious drives off the back foot, while Buttler used his power to thrilling effect when the ball was pitched up or short.
It needed a bit of innovative thinking on Dhoni’s part to break the partnership. A short midwicket was put in, and when Ishant darted one in at the pads, Buttler clipped it straight to him. He had made 45 from just 73 balls. Woakes followed him soon after, but there was more misery in store as Root and Chris Jordan added an unbeaten 67 for the eighth wicket. Root raced towards his century and then opted for circumspection as India finished the day totally flat. Binny, in particular, was treated with contempt, going for 25 in his last three-over spell.
With such a sizeable lead, this game is very much England’s to lose.