This was England’s best day of this Test so far, but they aren’t any closer to winning it, and only slightly closer to salvaging a draw. That is an adequate summation of just how far behind they were in this match before the day began.
A decent bowling effort on the fourth day of the second Test in Visakhapatnam saw them dismiss India for 204. Four wickets a piece for Stuart Broad and Adil Rashid meant that India lost seven second innings wickets for 106 runs in the morning session. That is, objectively, a fine performance from the England team. The issue was, just like buying your wife expensive jewellery the day after your wedding anniversary, it was too little, too late.
England had squandered any chances they had of winning this match when they found themselves 80 for five in their first innings. While a century stand between Jonny Bairstow and Ben Stokes on the third day had given them a modicum of respectability, any chance of victory had disappeared when they conceded at 200-run first innings lead.
Adil Rashid continued to perform well in his new found role as England’s number one spin bowler. In this game he has bowled more overs than in any of his seven Tests to date, and his economy rate of 3.27 across the match is also a career best. Rashid’s four wickets in the second innings, to go along with his two in the first, took his tally for the series to 13, making him comfortably the leading wicket-taker on either side. Rashid has offered Alastair Cook control and he has claimed wickets – his captain can ask for nothing more from him.
At the other end, Broad was limping his way through an impressive spell that saw him claim two wickets on Day four to go with two he picked up late on Day three. These were his best innings figures in Asia and he used the conditions brilliantly. Mixing it up between leg cutters that got him extra bounce and full paced deliveries that were keeping low, Broad was comfortably England’s best bowler and was good value for his figures of 4 for 33.
When the final Indian wicket fell, there were 150 overs left for England to face in this match, with a target was 405. That is a very achievable rate of 2.7 an over, but England would need to make history to get there. In 252 Tests in India before this game, a team has scored more than 300 batting last only five times. Only one of those has resulted in a win.
Realistically, England are not going to score these runs, but their best chance of doing so was to blunt the India attack and hope that the glory boys in the middle order could get them over the line. This is what Cook and Haseeb Hameed set about doing. As Australian cricket eats itself in pursuit of cricketers that can adapt to different situations, England were doing just that. It might be ugly, it may even be a bit dull, but that is Test cricket. If you can’t win, you draw.
South Africa did something similar when faced with this kind of task in India in December last year, and after 143 overs of them scoring at a run, an over the South Africans could not hold out. England would be hoping they can manage what the South Africans could not.
The partnership between Cook and Hameed brought only 75 runs but it took up a third of the overs that England needed to survive. With 50 overs being played before the first wicket fell, it meant that the fragile and inconsistent England middle order had only 100 more to navigate to keep this series at 0-0 heading to Mohali.
However, the reason why a draw is so unlikely on this pitch was summed up by Hameed’s dismissal. Hameed played his first truly attacking shot to the 130th ball that he faced, drilling a ball from Ravichandran Ashwin over the top for four runs. He had got himself set for the long haul. Then, on 25 and facing up to the 144th ball of his innings, a delivery from Ashwin shot along the ground and dismissed him LBW. It was a brutal way for it to end, but there was little that the young Lancastrian could do about it.
If it had been only Hameed that departed, England would have been beyond delighted with their day. However, they lost Cook LBW to Ravindra Jadeja in the last over of the day. Cook, who scored 54 runs from 188 balls, had ridden his luck with close LBW decisions. But him remaining not out overnight would have given England some hope. Losing the rock around which this batting lineup is built is a massive blow for England.
The big story on Monday morning will be Ben Duckett walking to the crease for what could be an innings that defines his immediate future in this team. Nick Hoult writing in The Telegraph on Saturday said that for Duckett to survive, the England management needed to see him bat with assurance against the spinners and score at least 30 runs. If he can do that, he will have played a part in putting England closer to a remarkable draw. If Duckett can play in his natural way, he could even get them near a miraculous victory.
Or India win by 200 runs around lunch time.