The fight England showed on this third day may not save them from defeat in the second Test but it will perhaps stand them in good stead for the rest of the series.
When play began this morning with Alastair Cook’s side 352 runs behind on 103 for five, there was every possibility India would wrap up victory today.
However, a fightback with the bat led by a 110-run partnership between Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow laid the foundations for a performance of character and spirit that was continued by England’s bowlers once Virat Kohli, India’s captain, chose not to enforce the follow on.
The hosts, whose first-innings 455 has put them in complete control of this Test, saw England fall one run shy of their follow-on target when they were eventually bowled out for 255.
A lead of 200, though, was extended to 298 by the close despite the losses of Murali Vijay, Lokesh Rahul and Cheteshwar Pujara.
Kohli, who had scored a brilliant 167 during India’s first innings, inevitably wrestled back what little momentum his side has ceded by reaching the end of the day unbeaten on 56.
Given the fact Ravichandran Ashwin, India’s premier spinner, now has his tail up after capturing his 22nd five-wicket haul in Tests, England will be huge underdogs to chase anything on a pitch that will only get more helpful for the world’s No1-ranked bowler.
In truth, India already have enough runs.
The game, it seems, has already gone, England only too aware the four-wicket collapse on the second evening has undermined all the hard work they put in before and since that meltdown.
Cook’s side should still take confidence from the fact they have shown fight here to go with their encouraging performance in the drawn first Test in Rajkot.
This match could also end in a draw, theoretically at least. But with the next rain in Visakhapatnam forecast for January, they’d have to bat out around five sessions on a wearing pitch to deny India victory.
So while the odds favour England heading to Mohali next week with a 1-0 series deficit, they still have all to play for in the remaining three Tests
The guts shown by Stokes and Bairstow should not have come as a surprise given the pair have now put on three 100-plus stands this year.
They started things off in Cape Town in January, when they shared a 399-run partnership that encompassed the second-fastest double hundred in Test history by Stokes and Bairstow’s maiden hundred at this level.
Chittagong was the scene of their next big alliance, 127 runs posted between them during a partnership that proved key to England’s narrow 22-run win in the first Test against Bangladesh.
The fact this latest effort probably won’t affect the end result of this match should not detract from its significance.
It did, for 30 overs of this third day, hold up India and inspire the rest of their team-mates to front up and show the fight that Paul Farbrace, England’s assistant coach, has called for after the collapse on the second evening.
Umesh Yadav was the man who split the eventually split the pair, the India seamer yorking Bairstow on 53 ten minutes before lunch.
England were 190 for six at that stage, still trailing by 265.
Stokes had posted his eighth Test half-century by then to lead his side into lunch on a more sure-footed note than they had started the day, when Bairstow had injured his ankle walking out to bat.
That may appear in the “What Happens Next” section of a Question of Sport in years to come.
For England, though, what happened after lunch was exactly what they feared when Stokes was eventually dismissed for 70, lbw by Ashwin.
Just 30 more runs were posted in the next 12.1 overs as Zafar Ansari, Stuart Broad and James Anderson also all fell leg.
Ravindra Jadeja grabbed the first of those three wickets, Ashwin the final pair to secure his first five-wicket haul against England.
The wicket of Broad was wrongly given out, but with England having no reviews left, the fast bowler was given no choice but to walk.
However, England’s good use of reviews brought them early joy in India’s second innings, with karma decreeing Broad should inevitably be the beneficiary as Vijay, technology showing he edged to Joe Root at gully, and Rahul, caught behind after the same Ultra-Edge tool showed contact between bat and ball, both departed.
That left India 17 for two in their second innings. Anderson then took the Decision Review System out of the equation by bowling Pujara with an inswinger to leave India 40 for three.
Yet Kohli ensured India would finish the day with a flourish as he hit his 14 Test half-century during an unbroken stand of 58-run stand with Ajinkya Rahane.
England look destined for defeat, but at least they are going down fighting.
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