India’s famed pace bowling unit for the umpteenth time put its team in pole position, bowling out England for 284 before the hosts just about managed to put a foot in the door by getting the top-order cheaply in an engrossing third day’s play in the fifth Test.
At stumps, India were 125 for 3 in their second innings with Cheteshwar Pujara (50 batting, 139 balls) displaying his gutsy avatar with a half-century, battling it out in the company of the flamboyant Rishabh Pant (30 batting, 46 balls). The overall lead stood at 257 runs.
However, the dismissals of Shubman Gill (4), Hanuma Vihari (11) and Virat Kohli (20) would make the visitors uncomfortable going into the final day.
Kohli, as usual, got the best delivery of the entire third day’s play when rival skipper Ben Stokes got one to rear up off length and no batter would have survived such a delivery with less than split second of reaction time.
Kohli, who was standing a good two feet outside the batting crease, was literally putting his best foot forward to defend from 17 yards while tackling the probing questions that James Anderson kept on asking but, as luck would have it, that delivery outside the off-stump had his name written on it.
Pujara played his usual waiting game with the clips off his toes and the occasional square cuts when provided width. Pant, on the other hand, mixed caution with aggression and if he stays for an hour on the fourth morning, he will completely turn the tables.
While India in recent years, after taking a 100-run plus lead, have never lost a Test match, the current England side under Brendon McCullum’s ‘Bazball’ (relentless attack) philosophy has made a mockery of near 300-run chases.
India would like to score at least 275 in their second essay and set England a target of at least 400 plus in order to close the match.
The third day is considered a moving day in Test cricket and things indeed proceeded at a breakneck pace as England scored runs at 4.61 runs per over, courtesy Jonny Bairstow’s (106 off 140 balls) counter-attacking third hundred in as many games.
Bairstow was swift yet brutal in his assault which got him 14 boundaries and two sixes.
But, in line with India’s overseas script in the last couple of years, the troika of skipper Jaspreet Bumrah (3/68 in 19 overs), Mohammed Shami (2/78 in 22 overs) and Mohammed Siraj (4/66 in 11.3 overs) kept up the pressure to ensure a sizeable lead of 132 runs.
Shardul Thakur (1/48) was taken to the cleaners by Bairstow but his happy knack of picking up crucial wickets saw him get rid of Stokes (25) just when the partnership of 66 was looking dangerous.
Kohli sledges, Bairstow hammers
The morning session belonged to Bairstow (106 off 140 balls), who smashed the Indian attack after being extensively sledged by Kohli.
Kohli had something to say to Bairstow about his ‘play and miss’ game and the England batter wasn’t someone to take the stuff lying down.
Post that altercation, Bairstow started chancing his arms and played a lot of lofted shots over mid-off and clipped a few towards the mid-wicket boundary.
“Don’t poke the Bear that is Johnny Bairstow again please,” noted commentator Ian Bishop tweeted while Virender Sehwag joked that Kohli has forced Bairstow to transform from “Pujara to Pant”.
Bairstow, who seemed to be struggling during the final hour on the second day, did play and miss in the first 20 minutes in the morning.
But once Bumrah continued with attacking field, he had a lot of options in front of the wicket.
While Thakur got the prized scalp of Stokes, Bairstow handed him some harsh punishment with a ramp shot followed by a square drive.
There was also a regal pick-up pull for a maximum off Siraj’s bowling.
There were two more sixes off Thakur’s bowling as the morning session belonged to England before India made a comeback in the next one.
Bumrah creates pressure, Siraj reaps reward
Once Bairstow smashed Shardul Thakur (1/48 in 7 overs) through cover point to complete his 11th Test century off 119 balls and third in as many games, he suddenly went into a shell.
Skipper Jasprit Bumrah (3/68 in 19 overs), who has had a dream game as an individual performer, bowled a probing spell, beating the bat time and again.
In the next 20 balls, Bairstow managed only six runs after his mayhem that saw him get 14 boundaries and two sixes.
Bottled up by Bumrah, Bairstow had no option but to try an expansive drive when a fuller delivery was pitched on the fourth stump line from Shami. The resultant thick edge was smartly taken by a leaping Kohli, who made amends for his needless engagement with the batter.
Once the Bairstow-Sam Billings (36) stand of 92 runs ended, Siraj bowled fast and quick to get the remaining three wickets for addition of another 43 runs.