England had a few tasks on Day 3 of the third Test against India at Mohali. They had to ensure the hosts don't end up taking a formidable lead on a deteriorating pitch, and when they were themselves called to bat, they had to bat long and take lead in excess of 200. For those to happen England had to contain the Ravichandran Ashwin-Ravindra Jadeja-Jayant Yadav troika, which is fast becoming a real thorn in their flesh, both with the bat and ball.
Alas, Alastair Cook's men came a cropper in all their tasks. India piled on a 400-plus score, with Ashwin, Jadeja and Jayant, all scoring half-centuries. It was the first time that three Indian players batting at No 7 or below struck fifties, and Jadeja was, in fact, woefully unlucky to miss his maiden Test ton. England conceded a 134-run lead, and when it was their chance to bat, they messed it all up, losing four wickets for 78, including those of their talisman and captain, Cook and the in-form Ben Stokes. England failed on all their assignments on Day 3 and stare defeat in the face.
Can the match be salvaged now? Even the biggest England supporter would perhaps acknowledge that winning from this position would be nothing short of a miracle. The problem is, even saving the match looks like too high a mountain to climb. India have ample time in their hands, but England have too few wickets in their's. The visitors would have to bat out the entire Day 4, and even then a draw is not guaranteed. The best that they can possibly hope is to give India a reasonable target and then go all-out for a win. However, it is easier said than done, with the Indian spin trio hunting in packs and hunting ever so well.
Joe Root's wicket will be crucial for either side and one feels Root has the key to England's chances in this match, though how far even his best efforts can assure England is debatable. He will need support and this is where the role of lower order will come in. They England lower order has faltered in recent times and this is their time to step up and add crucial runs. A target of around 150 on a deteriorating pitch can prove to be tricky for India. The middle and lower order needs to show much more application and develop partnerships.
A defeat at Mohali would be a body blow for the visitors, and if it happens on the fourth day itself, it would demoralise them to a great extent. It would not only mean they would have no chance to repeat their 2012 performance, when they beat India 2-1 in the series after going one down, the dent in their psyche might cause England to cave in. A drubbing in the series would be extremely humiliating for Cook's men and it is something that they would like to avoid.
Practically speaking, it would be ' moral victory' for England now if they can take the match to the fifth day.