Chasing a mammoth 537, the hosts suffered a start they wouldn’t have wanted. They lost Gautam Gambhir on the first ball of the second over of the day. But England’s dream beginning was undone by Murali Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara’s brilliant centuries. The duo stitched together a partnership of 209 runs to put India in a commanding position. However, a shabby display in the last few minutes of the day would have spoiled the mood in the hosts’ dressing room.
It was a different Pujara we witnessed at Rajkot on Friday. He came out to bat with an attacking intent, hitting five fours and racing to 24 off 22 balls. But shortly after, he got the short ball treatment, a ploy the visitors should’ve continued with, but stopped abruptly. Pujara was hit on the helmet thrice by Chris Woakes. But that was the only phase where the opposition managed to perturb the local boy. He got to his century in 169 balls and ended his innings at 124 with a strike rate of 60.19.
Vijay, on the other hand, was struggling to get runs at the brisk rate. Dropped by debutant Haseeb Hameed on 66 off Stuart Broad, he went on to score his seventh Test ton off 254 balls.
Kohli has often talked about the aggressive brand of cricket his young unit should play. He has maintained that under him, the team would always look to win, no matter what. And that’s what India should try to do on day 4.
India trail by 218 runs, but still have Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Wriddhiman Saha left. It goes without saying that the hosts will pin their hopes on the duo of Kohli and Rahane. And it’s necessary that the pair stays at the crease as long as possible to get India closer to England’s total.
Experts have already predicted that the match will end in a draw. Having said that, the hosts will not be ruling out a win. This is a perfect platform for Kohli to demonstrate his aggressive approach – something he’s always been vocal about – play at a brisk rate and go for the kill. It will be a gamble, but remember India have an in-form lower order comprising Saha, Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, who can play out a draw if the situation demands so.
England failed to stop the flow of the runs in the first session, when hosts brought up 126 runs in 27 overs at a run rate of 4.66. England looked ill-prepared for a mini-onslaught by Pujara and looked clueless. India should go out with the same intent to counter the visitors in the first session on day 4 to put them under pressure. Kohli and Co should try to get a lead of 50 runs and declare 10-15 overs into the third session. A loss in the first Test would be a big psychological blow to the visitors, who performed out of their skin in their first innings.
Remember, India are at the top of the ICC Test rankings and they should play like a table-topper, especially in home conditions. Their objective should be to win and not draw. The hosts should try to mix caution with aggression, to make something out of this match. If the situation starts to get risky, they have the ammunition in them to quickly change their plans and play for a draw. The result of the Test, however, will depend to a large extent on how Kohli performs on Saturday.