For much of the past four days the enduring beauty of Test cricket as the greatest game in the world has proved elusive. A bland, slow pitch, offering encouragement to nobody except perhaps a Turner Prize committee determined to reward benign oblong shapes, has seen to that.
Yet by the end of the fourth day in the fourth and final match of the series between India and England, it had us back in its thrall. England spent five hours effectively batting out time to achieve their heart's desire of victory in India.
It was never pretty, though it grew less unsightly as the day wore on, but it was oddly gripping. The tourists barely rose above a run rate of two an over – it took 62 overs to reach that level – and were bent only on survival to protect their precious 2-1 lead in the series. Not much happened all day – and that would be overstating the action in the first session. The drama came in the little things. Each of the three wickets that England lost was accompanied by a frisson of either injustice or concern, sometimes both.
There were umpiring mistakes which the decision review system would have rectified, there were sharp exchanges and possibly sharp practice. And there was fear, always the most captivating component in any game. The unwholesome activity on both sides probably derived from that. The surface mocked everybody.
India need to win the match to retain an unbeaten record that goes back eight years, which itself was a minor blip in a sequence going back 13 years. It affected their method and their responses.
England ended the day near safety but not there. They were 161 for 3 from 79 overs, putting them 165 runs ahead. Jonathan Trott was controversially still there, having applied himself appropriately in making his second half-century of the series, as was Ian Bell, who was probably batting for his immediate future.
Trott was the object of India's ire for three separate incidents, including a no-ball he should not have hit, surviving a catch behind which all of India felt was out (it wasn't) and cross words with R Ashwin when he was backing up too far.
India declared their first innings at 326 for 9 after scoring 29 runs in an hour from 77 balls, and that with a bit of a spurt at the end. In the next hour England scored 17 for 0 in 13 overs. Both sides could and should have been more proactive and adventurous.
Runs were turned down as often as they were deliberately given away. What was going off out there was grotesque. The pitch was to blame for almost everything but the players had become ensnared by it so that it affected all their judgements.
The lunch interval was spent musing again on obituaries of Test cricket and what it was like in its pomp (much like this in terms of scoring rate, as it happened). It picked up a bit in every sense afterwards.
True, you might have had to follow the game for a few years to appreciate it. Coming to it for the first time you would have been entitled to wonder why it was like this after more than three days, the participants seemingly in a state of torpor which was bound to infect those watching. It was those little things that saved it.
Alastair Cook, the talismanic captain of England, was out early in the afternoon. He had scored his first run off his 27th ball and his second off his 54th, so his innings was perfectly measured as usual.
Except, for the second time in the match, he was not out. Wrongly given out lbw in the first innings, he was now sent on his way again by Kumar Dharmasena, who nodded his head and then raised his finger in response to an appeal for a catch behind.
Cook did not touch the ball and a review would have confirmed that. Dharmasena has had a poor game which has done nothing to augment his surprising status as the ICC umpire of the year. Perhaps he too was nodding off as Cook went to 13 from 93 balls.
Soon after, Trott was facing Ravi Jadeja when the ball slipped from the bowler's hand and bounced slowly along the ground in the direction of square leg. Trott might have left it alone, or picked up the ball and returned it to the bowler. Instead he advanced towards it, took aim and whacked it for four on the leg side. India seemed to be laughing at the time but it was an odd thing to do and it did not feel within the spirit of the game.
On the stroke of tea, Nick Compton was given out lbw to Pragyan Ojha. Compton had done a diligent job and it was the fifth time in the series he had scored between 29 and 57. Nor was he out on first glance because he hit it. The replay showed, however, that the ball went from bat to pad to gully, where it was caught. The right decision, then, was made for the wrong reason.
Kevin Pietersen was patient a while and looked determined to stay that way until he shouldered arms to Jadeja and saw his off stump trimmed. As long as Pietersen plays cricket his perceived weakness against left-arm spin will be raised and it was the fifth time this series he had been out to it.
Trott, on 43, was given not out by Dharmasena off Ishant Sharma in the face of an insistent appeal. At the end of the over Sharma and Virat Kohli angrily made their feelings clear, as will the match referee soon, no doubt. While handing out the fine he might also remind them that it was their side who declined to use DRS.
Soon after that, Ashwin warned Trott for backing up too far, reminding him of the four he struck earlier. It was all going off out there by then.
Timeline: How Day Four of the fourth test unfolded
4am GMT India resume
India continue on 297 for 8, and they hold on for nearly 50 minutes for 20 runs before Monty Panesar bowls Pragyan Ojha for three after the ball hits his forearm and then the stumps.
5.02am India declare at 326 for 9
The hosts declare four runs behind. Alastair Cook and Nick Compton come in, but England manage only 17 runs in the 12 overs before lunch.
7.38am Wkt, Cook c Dhoni b Ashwin 13
Cook shakes his head after being caught behind. He trudges off but doesn't believe he hit the ball, and 13 runs in 93 balls won't improve his mood.
8.38am Wkt, Compton lbw b Ojha 34
Compton makes 34 off 135 balls but is rapped on the pad by Ojha moments before the players depart for tea. Kevin Pietersen comes in to speed things up, we hope.
9.20am Sehwag drops Pietersen
A let-off for England, who are on 90 for 2. Pietersen edges Ravindra Jadeja, but Virender Sehwag fails to collect at shin height.
9.25am Wkt, Pietersen b Jadeja 6
Pietersen picks up his first boundary, but is immediately bowled, undermined again by left-arm spin, when Jadeja's straight ball hits off stump.
9.52am Dhoni appeals but England settle
Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott make some ground, at 123 for 3. Ishant Sharma celebrates M S Dhoni's catch after an edge from Trott, but umpire Dharmasena shakes his head.
10.01am Trott reaches 50
Things are tight, but Trott's half-century off 106 balls is a timely show of resilience in an attritional contest. It is also his 14th Test half-century.
11am Stumps; England 161 for 3
Bell and Trott hold their own, and England take a 165-run lead going into the final day, with Trott having battled to 66 not out.
Fourth Test, Vidarbha CA Stadium (third and fourth days of five): England are leading India by 165 runs with seven second-innings wickets in hand
England won toss
ENGLAND First Innings 330 (Root 73, Pietersen 73, Prior 57, Swann 56, Chawla 4-69)
INDIA First Innings Overnight Friday 87-4 Overnight Saturday 297-8
V Kohli lbw b Swann 103
295 balls 11 fours
*†M S Dhoni run out 99
246 balls 1 six 8 fours
R A Jadeja lbw b Anderson 12
31 balls 2 fours
R Ashwin not out 29
P P Chawla b Swann 1
P P Ojha b Panesar 3
I Sharma not out 2
Extras (b5 lb7) 12
Total (for 9 dec, 143 overs) 326
Fall: 1-1, 2-59, 3-64, 4-71, 5-269, 6-288, 7-295, 8-297, 9-317.
England bowling spells: J M Anderson: 32-5-81-4 (5-1-21-1; 4-1-3-2; 4-1-7-0; 3-0-8-0; 5-2-16-0; 11-0-26-1), T T Bresnan: 26-5-69-0 (3-0-6-0; 4-0-13-0; 3-1-6-0; 3-2-5-0; 3-0-7-0; 2-1-7-0; 3-1-8-0; 2-0-7-0; 3-0-10-0), M S Panesar: 52-15-81-1 (10-3-18-0; 4-1-6-0; 6-4-2-0; 9-3-10-0; 4-1-7-0; 2-0-7-0; 11-3-17-0; 6-0-14-1), G P Swann: 31-10-76-3 (1-1-0-0; 6-2-9-1; 6-0-22-0; 4-0-9-0; 2-1-11-0; 12-6-25-2), I J L Trott: 1-0-2-0 (one spell), J E Root: 1-0-5-0 (one spell).
ENGLAND Second Innings
*A N Cook c Dhoni b Ashwin 13
93 balls 1 four
N R D Compton lbw b Ojha 34
135 balls 1 four
I J L Trott not out 66
153 balls 9 fours
K P Pietersen b Jadeja 6
30 balls 1 fours
I R Bell not out 24
67 balls 4 fours
Extras (b8 lb6 nb4) 18
Total (for 3, 79 overs) 161
Fall: 1-48, 2-81, 3-94.
To bat: J E Root, †M J Prior, T T Bresnan, G P Swann, J M Anderson, M S Panesar.
India bowling spells: I Sharma: 12-3-27-0 (1nb) (4-2-5-0; 2-1-1-0; 2-0-5-0; 4-0-16-0), P P Ojha: 23-10-39-1 (3-2-3-0; 2-1-3-0; 5-0-10-0; 11-5-23-1; 2-2-0-0), R Ashwin: 18-9-34-1 (13-7-19-1; 5-2-15-0), P P Chawla: 10-2-20-0 (2nb)(4-0-10-0; 6-2-10-0), R A Jadeja: 16-9-27-1 (1nb) (13-7-25-1; 2-2-0-0; 1-0-2-0)
Progress: day three: India: 100 runs in 51.5 overs, Lunch:146-4 in 73 overs (V Kohli 46, MS Dhoni 31), 150 runs in 76.6 overs, V Kohli: 50 off 171 balls (4 fours)., M S Dhoni: 50 off 137 balls (7 fours), 200 runs in 92.1 overs, Tea: 227-4 in 100.0 overs (V Kohli 77, M S Dhoni 75), 250 runs in 108.4 overs, V Kohli: 100 off 289 balls (11 fours), Close: 297-8 in 130.1 overs (R Ashwin 7).
Day four: India: 300 runs in 133.4 overs, Innings: 326-9 in 143 overs (R Ashwin 29, I Sharma 2). England: Lunch: 17-0 in 13 overs (A N Cook 1, N R D Compton 14), 50 runs in 29.6 overs, Tea: 81-2 in 46.4 overs (Trott 22), 100 runs in 57.4 overs. I J L Trott: 50 off 106 balls (8 fours), 150 runs in 73.5 overs, Close: 161-3 in 79 overs (Trott 66, I R Bell 24).
Umpires H D P K Dharmasena (S Lanka) & R J Tucker (Aus).
TV umpire S Ravi.
Match referee J J Crowe (NZ).