Speaking on the first evening in Rajkot, Joe Root proffered the view that this Test would have hit fast forward at some point. Thankfully it did late on this third day as Adil Rashid and Zafar Ansari both took wickets in the space of the final four balls to keep alive England’s hopes of victory.
India had fought their way back with the bat on the back of a 209-run second-wicket stand between Cheteshwar Pujara and Murali Vijay.
But, after Ben Stokes removed home favourite Pujara for 124 midway through the final session, it was the turn of England’s spinners to tip the balance of this contest back in their side’s favour.
Rashid’s performance was much-improved on his recent displays in Bangladesh and the leg-spinner finally found reward after 15 fruitless overs when his googly removed Vijay for 126.
Ansari, playing in only his second Test, then struck with what proved the final ball of the day to send nightwatchman Amit Mishra on his way.
Both dismissals were the result of short-leg catches by Haseeb Hameed, the debutant who had earlier reprieved Vijay on 66 during the afternoon session.
India, who reached stumps on 319 for four, will still believe they can get close to England’s total of 537.
However, Alastair Cook’s team, whose lead is still 218 runs, will believe they can now carve out a significant first-innings advantage and push for a win that would end their opponents’ four-year unbeaten home record.
That possibility seemed like fantasy as India took full advantage of what had been a benign surface at the Saurashtra Cricket Association Stadium for much of the day.
Pujara, born in Rajkot and watched live by his father and coach Arvind for the first time in international cricket, was ably assisted by Vijay as India overcame the early loss of opener Gautam Gambhir to pile the pressure back on their opponents.
That increased when Vijay was reprieved by Hameed at cover off the bowling of Stuart Broad, who had earlier trapped Gambhir lbw with the seventh ball of the day.
Pujara also had some good fortune on 86 when he was given out lbw to Moeen Ali on the stroke of tea. With the ball pitching in line and appearing to be hitting middle stump, the call by New Zealand umpire Chris Gaffaney looked good.
The batsman, though, reviewed the decision and to England’s disbelief Hawkeye ball-tracking showed the delivery going over the top of the stumps.
India are inexperienced in the nuances of the Decision Review System given this is the first series when they have actually used it in full.
Yet Pujara's gamble paid off.
It was a cruel blow for England, who had slogged their guts out in the field for almost two entire sessions without reward.
India had started a morning that had begun with a minute’s silence for Armistice Day on 63 without loss. But Gambhir’s dismissal only brought Pujara to the crease.
With his father watching on, there was a sense of fate about his century.
However, Pujara had come into this series in good form having hit three half-centuries and a hundred in the recent home series against New Zealand.
It’s no surprise then that he looked fluent early in his innings, scoring at almost a run a ball as he raced to 26. But Chris Woakes, hitting Pujara on the helmet three times in successive overs, unsettled his rhythm before he regained his composure.
Alongside Vijay, India’s second-wicket pair guided their side into lunch on 162 for one.
It was a morning to forget for Stokes, who had scored a wonderful century on day two to help England into a position of strength.
Suffering cramp yesterday evening after spending almost five hours at the crease for his 128, this was the Durham all-rounder’s first opportunity to bowl. Yet he looked badly out of sorts as his four-over spell went for 28 runs.
In truth, there wasn’t much happening for any of England’s bowlers, a theme that continued into an afternoon that saw the hosts head into tea on 228 for one after scoring 66 unanswered runs.
Those two let-offs for Vijay and Pujara didn’t help. Neither did the brilliance of India's No 3, who after going into the interval on 99, finally reached three figures in the second over of the evening session with a scampered single off Woakes.
England took the new ball at the start of that final session and after 10 overs without joy they finally had the breakthrough they were looking for when Pujara cut Stokes to Cook at slip.
India, already buoyed by that double-hundred stand for the second wicket, were then comforted by the sight of Virat Kohli, their captain and star batsman, coming to the crease.
Yet they were kept in check by England’s late rally and India will now have to fight back all over again on day four to ensure they remain in this match.Reuse content