Tea India 488 and 49 for 2 (Vijay 29*, Kohli 2*) need another 261 to beat England 537 and 260 for 3 dec (Cook 130, Hameed 82)
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Alastair Cook scored his fifth Test century in India, the most by a visiting batsman, but India seemed to be on their way to save the Test as they made it to tea for the loss of two wickets. Asked to survive 49 overs to go to Visakhapatnam on even terms, India lost Gautam Gambhir for a duck but M Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara made sure there was no unlikely collapse through a partnership that lasted 14.4 overs. England now had 31 overs to take eight wickets in.
There was an element of the conservative to England’s declaration – it left India over six an over to get – but only those who have worked extremely hard to get into lead will know the risks involved in giving a chance to an opposition that had won previous 12 last home Tests not affected by weather. There were moral victories, though: India’s lead bowler R Ashwin was made to wait for 61 overs for a wicket since he struck with the last ball of the first session of the Test, his match figures of 3 for 230 keeping in with his overall average of 53.4 against England.
On the final day Ashwin felt the need to bowl with a changed action, getting more side-on, rocking back on the right foot, which resulted in more pace and more rip, but all that it got him was economical figures. The only wicket he got was because Cook had started taking risks and holed out to long-off. Ashwin has been nearly unplayable on the big turners that India have been playing on so it will be a concern that he couldn’t create more chances on a less friendly track. There will be those criticising the pitch, but they will do well to look at the number of missed chances that rose to 11 with Zafar Ansari dropping a tough chance from Vijay and Stuart Broad shelling a dolly from Pujara.
Ansari, the bowler on both occasions, had his heart broken but perhaps not as much as 19-year-old debutant Haseeb Hameed, who fell 18 short of what would have been an emotional century with his family in attendance in a part of the world that they left years ago for a life in England. He fell just short of emulating his captain and opening partner, who scored a second-innings century when he debuted in India 10 years ago. The captain was going strong still.
Resuming the day 16 behind the younger partner, Cook soon overtook him. Hameed found himself bogged down by the disciplined bowling, adding just 20 off 61 to his overnight 62, but he did register the highest score by an England teenager and batted long enough to become part of the biggest opening partnership for England in India. Cook showed more enterprise, looking to sweep the spinners and cut the quicks. The odd punch through the covers was thrown in.
Ashwin kept landing the ball in the rough patches, drawing big turn, but the problem for the bowlers was that there wasn’t much alarming turn from the middle of the pitch, which really concerns the batsmen. While the bowlers bowling to their plans would have pleased India captain Virat Kohli, the fielding continued to frustrate him. He placed two men in the third man region and a man at gully to keep Cook from getting the boundary from his cut, but Amit Mishra and Mohammed Shami were found wanting. After the drinks break, Kohli had to send Ajinkya Rahane back there.
Towards the end of the first session England began to show intent. Hameed fell trying to slog a wide ball from Mishra, and Joe Root did the same. Ben Stokes was promoted to No. 4, but he was outscored by Cook in the 68-run partnership. Stokes remained unbeaten on 29 off 29 with Cook perishing looking for quick runs as opposed to staying unbeaten for his average.
Staying unbeaten would have helped Gambhir’s case on a day that KL Rahul returned to first-class cricket. As he looks to revive his Test career, Gambhir did himself no favours by giving second slip catching practice after having played all around a straight delivery in the first innings.
Vijay and Pujara then calmed India’s nerves by batting assuredly before they got into an unusual drive fest against the spin of Ansari. Vijay had lofted him down the ground beautifully in the first innings, but this time got too close to one and failed to get the elevation. Drilled back at Ansar, this half chance hit the index finger of the right hand and popped out. The next offering, in the 11th over, went to Broad at point at about one-fifth the pace but popped out again.
Just before tea, though, Pujara failed to review an lbw decision when a legbreak had hit him in front of middle, which should mean that on a fifth-day pitch this had to be pitched outside leg. Pujara and Vijay were unaware of it, but England had lost 5.4 valuable overs thanks to the drop.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo
ESPN Sports Media Ltd.