History tells us that plotting to chase 399 in India is outrageous. In the Bazball era though, take nothing for granted.
Yes, the highest successful fourth innings chase in India till date is 387. And even for this generational England team, 378 — against India at Edgbaston, 2022 — is as far as they have been stretched. But the gusto with which they came out swinging— cutting, punching, sweeping, reversing, driving, trying pretty much every shot in the book, shows England are itching to rewrite history.
Eleven boundaries and a six in 67/1 are ominous figures. More indicative of England’s winning mentality is sending Rehan Ahmed as nightwatchman ahead of No.3 Ollie Pope, a scarcely acceptable tactic from a bunch supposedly bent on entertaining. They are not. England want to win at any cost, and probably that’s why this feels like a break from the past. Which only makes this fourth innings chase an even more absorbing contest in the making, despite KS Bharat’s timely twist by throwing himself full length and sensationally plucking Ben Duckett’s catch inches from the ground.
That England still need 332 runs to win is thanks largely to a third Test hundred by Shubman Gill, who hadn’t scored a fifty in 13 innings before this. It was far from an assured innings, but on a day India were not at their best on a pitch which offered lesser turn than Hyderabad, they would have taken it anyway.
The sky getting gloomy in the morning meant James Anderson could look forward to a more engaging spell. And it took him precisely four balls to get into the thick of action, an unplayable seaming delivery that straightened on pitching and moved away just enough to beat Rohit Sharma’s outside edge and take the top of off-stump. Next over, Anderson had two. This time it was a fuller ball that induced a loose drive from Jaiswal and took a thick edge to first slip, India sliding to 30/2 in no time.
It could have been three in the 10th over after Gill was adjudged leg-before to Tom Hartley. But a review revealed a spike on UltraEdge when Gill’s bat closed in on his pad. Next over, it was Anderson’s turn to almost trap Gill leg before, getting a wobble seam delivery to nip back and hit him on the knee roll. But not given out, he was saved by umpire’s call even though replays showed the ball clipping the top of middle. That Gill was packing some serious luck was again evident in the 18th over when Hartley found the outer edge of his bat, but it beat Joe Root at slip because he was standing wider than usual.
Thankfully for India, Gill rode his luck to good effect. Two fours off Rehan Ahmed — cut behind point sweeper and point — were the first signs of Gill looking to take the attack to England. Two more fours off Ahmed in the 27th over — Gill skipped down the pitch to drill the ball past the bowler and then drove him through covers — showed he had gained confidence. More rampaging was his offensive in the 40th over, lofting Ahmed over his head for six before carting two more boundaries to take India’s lead past 300.
Once into the 80s though, Gill slowed down, taking 37 balls to get to three figures, with just one four from a sweep off Shoaib Bashir.
Giving Gill company all this while at the other end was Axar Patel, who painstakingly carved out 45 after two brilliant catches had threatened to cut short India’s innings.
The first, off a leading edge as Shreyas Iyer tried to hoick Hartley, was pouched by Ben Stokes running backward almost 30 yards.
For a second it looked like he had lost the ball in the sun, but Stokes recovered spectacularly, scampering back and completing the catch. India still had a chance to regroup but Rajat Patidar inside-edged Ahmed and Ben Foakes clung on to the catch brilliantly behind the stumps.
From 122/4 to 211/5 came a timely recovery for India, only for the hosts to throw away the advantage. Stokes initiated this collapse, brilliantly pre-empting shots by setting up innovative fields. From making the region between point and third man vacant, asking Gill to reverse sweep — he did just that and was caught behind — to making Ahmed bowl half-trackers so that Bharat pulls straight to midwicket, Stokes was clearly out-thinking India on all fronts.
Not until Jasprit Bumrah and Ravichandran Ashwin came together did another partnership began to build. By then India’s lead had swelled past 360, but Ashwin showed exemplary foresight in not letting the innings collapse on its feet. It triggered a phase when runs weren’t flowing but with every timely boundary hit, Ashwin was slowly helping the lead inch towards 400. Till Bumrah ran out of patience and edged a fuller delivery from Hartley to slip. Next over, Ashwin too ran out of luck, poking Ahmed to the wicketkeeper as India stopped just short of the 400-run psychological mark.