India end Day Four on 181/6 at Lord’s
England go into Day Five of a thrilling Lord’s Test with real hopes of victory after a late flurry of wickets tipped the balance of the match back in their favour, leaving India just 154 runs ahead at 181/6 and with just a flimsy tail to come.
The game had been trudging along for much of the afternoon, as India, through the obdurate Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane, glacially built a slender lead over England – the likelihood of a draw increasing with every over taken.
Pujara in particular was his typically restrained self – parts of the crowd rising in an ironic standing ovation when he brought up the milestone of 200 balls faced – and the pair looked to be well on the way to ensuring India’s safety in the Test, bringing up their 100 partnership from 269 balls.
However England had other ideas and with just over seven overs remaining until the new ball –seemingly their only previous hope of making a breakthrough – Mark Wood produced a snorter of a delivery that leapt off a length to surprise Pujara, looping off his gloves to gift Joe Root a simple catch at second slip.
It was the foot in the door that England needed and through the excellent Moeen Ali, they gleefully forced it open, cracking India’s batting lineup apart and exposing their perilously long tail.
Rahane was looking in ominous touch and odds on to notch a second Lord’s century, but he made a rare misjudgement prodding at one outside his eyeline and only succeeded in feathering an edge through to Jos Buttler – departing for an excellent 61 yet with the job only half done for India.
With the light closing in and the availability of the second new ball just an over away, Moeen struck decisively once again, Ravindra Jadeja perishing fifth ball to an absolutely perfect offspinner’s delivery to a left hander, the ball spinning past his outside edge and satisfyingly clipping the top of off stump.
Suddenly India were 176/6, just 149 runs ahead and with very little batting to come – the defiant and painstaking rearguard action of the afternoon fast disappearing from memory, the prospect of a once-unlikely England win creeping into view once more.
England’s hopes of victory had looked much brighter earlier in the day, with Wood striking twice early on. First he removed first innings centurion KL Rahul with a 93mph rocket that took the edge on the way through to Buttler, then in his next over he did for Rohit Sharma as well, the opener falling for a well-signposted hooking trap, skying the ball straight to Moeen at deep square leg.
For the first time in the series England had removed India’s openers cheaply, the tourists were 27/2, effectively 0/2 taking into account their first innings deficit.
Then five minutes before lunch it seemed as if the pivotal moment might have come, Sam Curran picking a timely moment to take his first wicket of the series, drawing India’s captain Virat Kohli into fiddling at one outside his off stump, edging it through to Buttler and sending Curran off on a mad celebratory charge around the outfield.
It means Kohli’s wait for an international century goes on, this was now the 49th consecutive innings he has failed to reach three figures, by far the longest stretch of his career. As a moment in the match it seemed crucial, statistics nerds CricViz certainly agreeing, their WinViz algorithm hoisting England’s chances of victory up to 67% with the departure of India’s captain.
However whatever English optimism there had been at lunch, it was to prove a little premature and was slowly chipped away at and ground into the dirt by Pujara and Rahane across most of the afternoon.
Ultimately though the pair were not able to do a complete rescue job for their side who now go into a fascinating final day with their hopes in the hands of Rishabh Pant – whichever way this goes it is likely to be exciting.