Having lost four precious wickets at the end of day two, Virat Kohli and captain MS Dhoni put on a mammoth stand of 198 from 507 balls to bring India within sight of first innings parity. Kohli eventually fell lbw to Graeme Swann for 103, England’s first wicket of the day coming with just an hour of play remaining. Unfortunately for India, this was not the last either, as debutant Ravindra Jadeja was ousted for 12 by James Anderson. MS Dhoni was closing in on what would have been a well deserved hundred when a direct hit from opposite number Alastair Cook ran him out by the smallest of margins, and Swann struck again to remove Piyush Chawla with the last ball of the day to leave India on 297-8, still 33 in arrears. It was an unfortunate end to a much-improved performance from India, and one has to admire the way Dhoni reined in his natural attacking game; this innings was more than two hours longer than any other he had played in Test cricket.
Despite toiling against Kohli and Dhoni for nearly an entire day, England were able to hit back in the final session to stop this match getting away from them. Even if the two batsmen had managed to survive the final hour, India’s total would not have been vastly different, but the message it would have sent out – and the psychological impact it could have had – would have been far more pronounced. As it is, England will have their tails up at the start of day four knowing that they have a chance of a first innings lead that can be built upon. India may feel that their chance of winning this match has gone, but we have seen before in this series what Ravichandran Ashwin (7*) can do. Even with the disappointment of losing several late wickets this was India’s day and England have a lot of work to do.
Once England take the final two Indian wickets, they will probably feel that batting time is the most sensible thing to do. Had they been able to remove either Kohli or Dhoni this morning, they may well have been batting in the final session and have been thinking about setting up a chance for a win. As it is, we could be looking at a one-innings shoot out, in which case sensible and unhurried cricket is the only approach to take. This does bring with it an element of risk, as a lack of runs can see batsmen can play themselves into high-pressure situations, particularly with spinners trying to contain them at both ends. However, if the top order score when chances arise and leave everything else alone, they will have a chance of batting at least until lunch on the final day, and ideally until tea. From what was looking like a likely England win, all three results are again possible, and one bad session for either side could decide the outcome.
If India are to win this match and square the series, then their bowlers will need to come out all guns blazing. With two days remaining they have ensured they are not completely out of the contest, and now it is down to their bowling attack to try and spark the kind of collapse that has plagued England in the past. The England batsmen will have to fight any doubts in their own minds as much as the Indian attack, but another early burst from Ishant Sharma would be extremely timely, and with the pitch just starting to show signs of deterioration there may be something for the spinners as well. The home side will have nothing to lose when it comes to their second innings, and regardless of the target set by England, their batsmen will come out swinging. How realistic their chances of a successful run chase are will be determined by the bowlers’ performance on the penultimate day of this final Test.
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BIOGRAPHY: Mohamed Salah