A brutal day for England’s bowlers saw them concede 257 runs in 85.3 overs while taking just four wickets was an accurate reflection of both this pitch and the wicket taking abilities of this England team. India batted well, England did not bowl badly, the pitch did very little. England claimed two Indian wickets in the last two overs of the day which will give the scorecard a different look, but this was ridiculous hard work for very little reward. Baring England going full Adelaide 2006, this game will be a draw.
Bowling on good batting pitches is about building pressure. There will be no miracle balls to dismiss batsmen, instead you earn them over the long term by keeping scoring in check and forcing the opposition to take risks. England failed to do this in the morning session as a succession of balls that were too full or too short were struck for boundaries by Murali Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara - 15 in all before lunch as both men reached half centuries.
The day had started in the best possible way for the visitors, when Stuart Broad dismissed Gautam Gambhir LBW with the very first ball he bowled on day three. It was a remarkable mess that Gambhir got himself into, with his feet ending up in “starting position three” that will be familiar to any ballet enthusiasts. From there England were made to wait for another wicket with India reaching lunch at 162 for one.
The one period during the morning that England troubled an Indian batsman was when Chris Woakes was bowling short to Pujara. India’s number three was struck on the helmet three times as the England all-rounder treated him to a barrage of quick bumpers that he had few answers to. Pujara can play the pull and the hook, but he was unwilling to do so on day three. While it was discomforting, he survived and England needed to think again.
After the lunch break England bowled much better. They executed the “bowling dry” tactic that was so successful for them on their last Indian tour in 2012, making the Indian batsmen work for every run. There was one Stuart Broad spell where he bowled mostly off-cutters and conceded just four runs in 42 balls.
All three England spinners were a lot more disciplined after lunch, bowling fewer balls that offered easy scoring shots in the second and third sessions. This was a better period from all of them than any time during the Bangladesh series.
The most pleasing spell was that of Adil Rashid either side of the lunch break where he bowled with real fizz and kept the scoring rate down. He went wicketless, but he looked threatening while not conceding runs. This is the Rashid that England have hoped would emerge this winter.
England thought they had dismissed Pujara, and so did umpire Chris Gaffaney, when he was on 86. He gave Pujara out LBW when he was struck on the back leg by Zafar Ansari. After a brief chat with his partner he reviewed and the ball tracking technology showed it was going over the top. This was disappointing for England, but good news for the bigger picture. World cricket needs DRS, and for that to happen India need to embrace it.
Their stubborn resistance to the system stopped making sense about four years ago, and as the old lags that had railed against the inevitable retired it was always likely the BCCI would back down. But as we have learned over the years, it does not take much for the Indian cricketing authorities to change their minds. A star batsman being given a reprieve and going on to make a Test hundred is the sort of thing that makes sure that DRS will be a feature of Indian series for years to come.
While England bowled better after than poor first session, they never found any reverse swing. On this placid surface it became clear that this was their only hope of bowling out this Indian team. When it failed to materialise despite the furious shining of Joe Root it left England in a holding pattern. The one chance that came their way during the massive stand between Pujara and Vijay was when the latter mistimed a drive that Haseeb Hameed put down in the covers off Stuart Broad. It was a tough chance with Hameed diving full length, but it should have been taken. As India discovered while they were in the field, chances are so hard to come by that putting them down is unforgivable.
And that brings us to this pitch. There have been worse surfaces for Test cricket (those that sat through the Nagpur Test of 2012 can attest to that) but it isn’t great. At least the pace and bounce means that runs are being scored, but it is holding together too well. The cracks that were visible on the first morning are no less treacherous now. We have now seen 856 runs for the loss of 13 wickets in 268 overs. England are not a good bowling side, and were always going to struggle to take 20 wickets against this India team in these conditions, but they have had no hope here.
When all bowling is nullified to this extent, Test cricket becomes a modern art installation, not a sport.
When the wickets did come it was actually jarring. A tired looking shot from Pujara saw him attempt to guide the ball down to third man only for him to place it into the hands of Alastair Cook at a wide first slip off Ben Stokes. It ended a 211 run partnership that lasted 67 overs.
It looked for a long while that Virat Kohli and Murali Vijay would see India to the close without further stutter. Then those two quick wickets at the end of the days play gave England some reward for their patient tactics. Murali Vijay propped forward to a Rashid googly and gloved the ball to Hameed at forward short leg. Then in the next over a near identical dismissal saw nightwatchman Amit Mishra give a bat-pad catch to the same fielder off Ansari.
With India are going at less than three an over during this innings they are still a long way behind with four men out, but they will feel confident of matching England’s first innings total on day four. It is going to be a draw though. Definitely. Maybe.