New Delhi: Just when it looked like he was breaking out of a long run of dreadful form, Virat Kohli fell. As he has been doing against the seamers, he was out edging a ball on the third off-stump to slip, if now to Moeen Ali.
Kohli got out playing for spin that wasn’t there. He was still searching for it for the entire extended last session on Day 4 of the Fourth Test as England ended 77-0. The only time Ravindra Jadeja found turn was when he landed on a rough outside left-handed Rory Burns’ off stump. Barring a couple of anxious moments, England openers seemed in control.
Not surprisingly, TV cameras kept finding Ravichandran Ashwin wherever he sat, oddly in the stands, audio headphones strapped on. What was he listening to, may be he will tell us in one of his brilliant YouTube videos. If India fails to win, or in the less likely event of England making history, his bloody-minded exclusion will haunt Kohli and head coach Ravi Shastri.
They’d worry that while Jadeja searched for direction, pace and right areas as if his bowling GPS was out of batteries, Jasprit Bumrah also looked out of sorts. Rarely do you see him making the batsmen play so little. He will be key to an early breakthrough and the fate of this intriguing last day.
On a day largely dominated by the visitors, India’s batting order came to life one batsman at a time. Following the tone set by the top order in the second innings, Rishabh Pant and Shardul Thakur stuck to the brief to help put up a mighty total of 466 on the board, with a lead of 367 runs.
But taking the challenge head-on, England joined the battle in earnest.
Haseeb Hameed’s unbeaten 43 — six fours and a strike rate of 50.59 — might just be the boost the hosts need. The English openers would now hope to keep the grip intact going into the final day.
The one ‘X’ factor to stop the English in their tracks could still be Ravindra Jadeja. It was pathetic to see him go over the wicket to Hameed so early in the innings, aiming for the bowlers’ footmarks way outside his leg stump. This has looked desperate and ineffective so far.
A plausible case can be made that India would be in a better position on Day 5 had Ashwin, the world’s best spinner on any pitch, been on the field. But there’s still about 90 overs to play out.
100-run stand between Pant and Thakur
India started Day 4 at 270/3, with captain Virat Kohli (22) and all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja (9) at the crease. While the skipper looked to end his lean patch, Jadeja sought to justify his spot in the team. He played a good 100 deliveries, but the all-rounder could only get to 17 before being dismissed.
Demoted to number six in the second innings as well, Ajinkya Rahane carried his struggling form and made his way back to the pavilion for a duck. Kohli couldn’t fight his demons either.
As soon as he walked in to bat in the 111th over, Thakur seemed intent on carrying on from where he left in the first innings. He scored his second half century of the match, making 60 at a strike rate of 83.33.
At the other end, Pant found some confidence after looking a bit lost throughout this series. Adding a new dimension to his game, he crafted his ‘slowest’ first-class fifty.
Both the middle-order batsmen scored 46 runs in an hour, building pressure on the tired English bowlers, who seemed bewildered by the sudden batting resurgence. Finally, the England captain had to take charge to send Thakur back. Pant followed four deliveries and 2 runs later. However, by then the duo had added over 100 runs, giving their side the much-needed push.
Tail-enders Umesh Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Siraj continued the merry-making, adding another 52.
Jadeja could be the key to The Oval
Since the start of the series, comparisons have been drawn between Ravindra Jadeja and R. Ashwin.
One look at the statistics is enough for anyone to feel that the man sitting on the bench has more to offer. The Tamil Nadu all-rounder has 413 wickets to his name, and 2,685 Test runs, including five centuries, at an average of 27.68.
In comparison, the 32-year-old has picked up 223 wickets and scored 2,118 runs at 34.72, with a single Test century.
With his indifferent batting in both the innings behind him, what Jadeja does with the ball on the final day could decide The Oval Test for India.
India needs 10 wickets and England needs 291 runs. Who will edge the other out? A thrilling day of Test cricket awaits.
Brief scores: India 191 and 466 all out (Rohit Sharma 127, Cheteshwar Pujara 61, Chris Woakes 83/3); England 290 and 77/0 (Haseeb Hameed 43*, Rory Burns 31*, Jasprit Bumrah 11/0).