India couldn’t have asked for more efficient players at the start of day 4. The hosts were trailing by 218 runs, and in came Virat Kohli – who was on an overnight score of 26 – and Ajinkya Rahane. India had a big task on their hands, but with two of their best batsmen at the crease, they could afford to think about a win.
However, as we’ve often seen in cricket, there was a huge turnaround. Zafar Ansari got rid of Rahane in the first session itself. The Mumbai batsman went neither ahead nor was in a position to play on the back foot as the ball went on to clip his stumps in the 117th over. The Indian captain followed him, barely three overs later. Kohli pulled Adil Rashid and ran for a single, not realising that he had trod on the stumps. Suddenly, India had two new batsmen at the crease with the deficit still being 188 runs.
But Ravichandran Ashwin and Wriddhiman Saha, as they have frequently done since the West Indies series, managed to bail the hosts out of the sticky situation. The duo shared a partnership of 64 runs before Moeen Ali sent Saha back to the pavilion for 35.
Ashwin, though, didn’t panic, and the composure was evident in his batting. He started accelerating when the hosts started losing wickets at the other end. He added 29 runs in the last 6.2 overs along with Mohammed Shami to give India just the momentum they would’ve yearned for. England had a lead of 49 runs, but it was advantage India.
When England came in to bat, Kohli started precisely the way one would’ve predicted – Shami from one end and Jadeja from the other. However, England captain Alastair Cook and Haseeb Hameed managed to play out the opening spell without any trouble.
Early wickets was the need of the hour and Ashwin came into the attack in the seventh over. But it was of no avail as the visitors raced to 114/0 at stumps, and young Hameed got a half century on his debut.
Kohli and Co looked impatient to take wickets and it showed. The bowlers failed to execute their plans (if any), as Cook and Hameed took away whatever momentum the hosts regained through Ashwin’s late onslaught. Such was the desperation that in the 28th over, Ashwin urged Kohli to take a review for LBW even when Hameed had offered no shot. The replays clearly showed that not only was the impact outside off but the ball would have missed the stumps by miles.
A draw seems inevitable on day 5, though India should try and go for wickets in the first session. The England spinners managed to get something from the deck, though the Indian spin trio didn’t quite exploit it the same way. There is turn on offer and India would want to make the most of it before completely cancelling the chances of a win. Murali Vijay voiced the same opinion.
“There's a lot of assistance to the spinners now. Hopefully we can put some pressure in the morning session get some wickets and you never know,” Vijay said at the press conference after day 4.
India have enough firepower to go for the win, even if England ask them to chase over 200 runs in the last session. But for that, it’s important to take some quick wickets in the first session on day 5 to put England under pressure. Having said that, it will all depend on how Cook and Co go about with the match. Considering it’s the first match of the series, they might be happy with a draw.
Nevertheless, the first passage of the play will decide the fate of the match and that’s where India should look to cash in. If they do, we are set for an exciting finish to the game. If not, get ready for a dull draw.