The start of the fourth day was unusual in that neither side was willing to give an inch, the result being that India crept to 317 before Monty Panesar removed Pragyan Ojha after three quarters of an hour. India eventually declared on 326-9, giving England a nominal four-run lead, and lunch saw England reach 17-0 in reply to add to their advantage. Ravichandran Ashwin made the breakthrough for India, Alastair Cook given out caught behind to another questionable decision. Nick Compton again failed to cash in on a start, falling to Ojha just before tea for 34, and when Kevin Pietersen left a straight one from Jadeja having been dropped by Sehwag just minutes before, England were in danger of presenting India with an opportunity. However Jonathan Trott and the under-pressure Ian Bell were able to safely navigate the rest of the day with a solid partnership, England reaching 161-3 at stumps. With Trott on 66* and Bell playing sensibly for his 24*, there are two experienced batsmen at the crease. The Warwickshire pair have the chance to put this match to bed on the final day.
India will have to throw caution to the wind on day five, and if England are all out in the afternoon session an additional hundred runs may not be enough. With seven wickets in hand, they will want to bat until tea and ensure that there is not enough time remaining for India to chase down an achievable target. Trott may not have had the best series by his standards, but his great strength is not getting flustered when under pressure – perfect for this type of situation. His unbeaten 66 from 153 balls has demonstrated this, and Bell has been equally restrained, his 24 coming from 67. More of the same is required tomorrow, particularly with only two recognised batsmen to come (one of whom, Root, is a debutant). The ideal scenario would be for Trott and Bell to reach lunch, by which time they should have added sufficient runs to take the pressure off anyone who may need to come in after them. A lead of 300 heading towards tea should be enough to see England home, but an early wicket would give India renewed faith that they can force their opponents into a costly collapse.
Few would have expected this series to come down to the final day after England were comprehensively outplayed in the first Test in Ahmedabad. From the start of the second Test, however, this has been England’s series, and it would be desperately disappointing for them if they were unable to finish the job. This match has been the closest of the four, and even with the negative tactics on the penultimate day, it has made for a fascinating battle. The pitch is still offering little to the bowlers, and if India are to turn this match in their favour tomorrow they will need to create chances early on to create some impetus. A great deal more urgency will be required than was demonstrated by the Indian tailenders at the start of day four, and they may well come to regret this approach if they are timed out of a chase. The chance to avenge the 4-0 defeat in the reverse tour earlier this year has already gone, and if India are unable to win this Test, an historic first series win in the country since 1985 beckons for England.
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BIOGRAPHY: Mohamed Salah