England are beset by troubles. It is almost a year since they won a Test, their captain is clinging on to his job in the face of advice from a legion of predecessors, their leading fast bowler is on a serious disciplinary charge, another player has created a kerfuffle by sporting a message with a clearly political if humanitarian edge, crowd numbers are worryingly down.
All in all, it is a bit of a mess. But today in the third Test England, helped by India’s dash to the self-destruct button, displayed a tenacity and purpose which showed that they may yet emerge from their present decline. It will need many more days like it, a continued share of good fortune and patience, but they played in a solid, determined fashion which has eluded them for too long.
To draw level at 1-1 in this Investec series they will need more of the same today and probably tomorrow and for the pitch to decline a little more markedly. The advantage unquestionably belongs to England. India closed the third day on 323 for 8, 246 runs behind. M S Dhoni, their captain and constant irritant to England, had made an invaluable half-century.
Doubtless, England were irritated too by small but significant lapses. Two catches went down off edges and late in the day a run-out opportunity was missed. They remain, lest anybody forgets, a work in progress.
India’s batting line-up, almost to a man, was guilty of getting in and failing to go on. In many cases, though not all, they were worn down by rigidly controlled bowling. England understood that things would not necessarily happen quickly and that constant application and adherence to plans were essential.
The old warriors Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad were as potent together as they have been in months. It was a reminder of why they have opened the bowling in 43 Test matches for England, though it was also pertinent that it is not a given when Broad was deprived of the opening overs in the morning. Chris Woakes won the captain’s favour and was unlucky to gain no reward throughout the day.
There is a long way to go in the match and with 12 wickets still to take, even a wearing pitch will stretch England to the limit. It would help naturally if they had a full-time spin bowler at their disposal, although Moeen Ali, the part-timer, took to nine his total of wickets in the series. His two dismissals came with deliveries that were in one instance innocuous and in the other plain dreadful. The way the selectors are going they may think that a golden-armed part-timer is the equal of a fully formed spinner.
India’s initial mission was to make lunch with nine wickets still intact. They lasted only until the 10th over. Cheteshwar Pujara had looked silkily assured when he made a late decision to leave a ball from Broad which lifted on him, took his gloves and gave Jos Buttler his first Test victim behind the stumps.
Murali Vijay was craftily ensnared by Broad, who bowled incisively and intelligently from the pavilion end. One went in, one went away and Vijay was unsure which way the next was going. As he his mind up too late, his inside edge went on to his off stump.
Had Broad been better supported at the other end, India might have been more discomfited. Unfortunately, Chris Jordan had one of those spells and one of those days where he could find no rhythm. His run-up was awry, the ball did not seem to fit comfortably in his hand. He kept looking at it there as if it were a turd.
Shortly before lunch Ajinkya Rahane survived an appeal for a smart catch down the leg side taken by Buttler, which replays showed he gloved. Shortly after it, Virat Kohli, who has not yet illuminated this series as it was supposed he might and had already been put down by Cook high at first slip, was undone by Anderson as he felt for a ball from the crease and edged to slip.
There followed a period of retrenchment, which was interrupted by two startling shots against Moeen. He dismissed Rohit Sharma, who failed and tried to clear mid-off with a poorly executed slog, which he immediately regretted. Moeen struck again still more fortuitously.
Rahane, batting as seamlessly as he had at Lord’s when he made a century, had just reached his fifty. His eyes lit up when a long hop came his way. To his horror he was through the shot too quickly and toe-ended it high to midwicket, where the substitute fielder Sean Terry had plenty of time to think about dropping the catch.
Terry was on for Ian Bell, who bruised a thumb in the slip cordon early in the afternoon. An X-ray revealed no fracture but the extent of the damage may not be known until the swelling recedes.
The second new ball brought two more wickets. Ravindra Jadeja was making England pay for a missed chance at gully by a diving Joe Root when he was beaten by a fast inswinger from his old adversary, Anderson, which won an lbw verdict. Anderson was doubtless delighted, though he did not show it.
Broad beat Bhuvneshar Kumar with another one that curved in and went off inside edge and pad to slip. Towards the end, Moeen missed a clear chance from short cover to run out Mohammed Shami. Work to do then, but England are in a wonderful position.