Cook, Hameed take England 163 ahead
- Sports, Published on: Saturday 12th November 16 - 9:29pm
The fourth day of the Rajkot Test ended as it began: with England needing some magic to give them a chance to win the Test. In between it seemed they had hypnotised two main India batsmen into unusual dismissals, but R Ashwin broke the spell with his 11th Test score of 50 or more. Then came a stage where, leading by 49 on first innings with four sessions to go, England seemed like the only side that could lose the Test. By stumps, though, Haseeb Hameed and Alastair Cook had put paid to any such notions, adding 114, to all but rule an England defeat out and leave them with an outside chance of winning on day five.
On a day in which so much seemed to have happened, eventually not enough happened off the pitch. However, to put the likely result of draw down to the pitch would be unfair. This match would have looked different had both teams held their catches. Even on the fourth day, England dropped two, taking the match count to nine between the two sides. The first of those proved to be crucial: England had taken two wickets for 12 runs, India were still 176 runs behind and they got a chance to end the sixth-wicket partnership short. Jonny Bairstow, though, dived over a low chance at first slip to reprieve Wriddhiman Saha.
Ashwin and Saha went on to add 64, becoming India's fourth-most prolific association since Saha became a permanent part of India's Test side late in 2014, and you could feel life going out of the Test momentarily. When Saha finally fell, having messed around with the spinners with cheeky sweeps and a loft for six, India were only 112 behind on a pitch that hadn't deteriorated as much as an Indian pitch usually does over four days.
There was turn, but no natural variation. There was no lateral movement for the quicks, and once again they failed to reverse the ball. There was enough in the surface, though, to make sure batsmen in deficit couldn't afford to take liberties against disciplined bowlers. Keeping that in mind, Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane began the day sedately against Stuart Broad and Chris Woakes. Having seen them off, though, they fell against the run of play to give England a look-in.
Rahane saw a ball short from Zafar Ansari, but perhaps it was not short enough, which meant he ended up playing a half-flick and half-pull, missing the line as well. The ball kissed the top of the stumps. Three overs later, Kohli went back deep into the crease to pull a short ball from Adil Rashid. The extra bounce perhaps cramped him, which meant his front foot went back down the line of the stumps, as opposed to wide of them, when he swivelled. He ended up tickling the bottom of leg stump as he finished swivelling. Bairstow noticed the missing bail and appealed.
Ashwin looked just as good as Kohli or Rahane, and he didn't make any freakish errors. He was hardly ever beaten in the flight against spin. When he moved forward he reached the pitch of the ball thanks to his height. When he went back he did so having picked the shorter length early, and cut handsomely. India might not have a Ben Stokes as their allrounder, but Ashwin is the No. 1 allrounder on ICC ratings for a reason. He brought the temperament of a proper batsman. He didn't play low-percentage shots even as wickets fell, and farmed the strike with the last man for company, adding 29 runs with Mohammed Shami.
That wickets fell was down to Rashid's earning his captain's faith and getting extended spells. He drew bounce not out of loose parts of the pitch but through the overspin he imparted. He hit the shoulder of Ravindra Jadeja's bat and got Umesh Yadav out slogging against the turn. Ashwin and Shami kept them in the field until tea, and India came out buzzing after the break.
The buzz ended soon with the pitch not doing much for them. Hameed and Cook looked assured with Hameed taking the attack to the bowlers, lofting Jadeja, who had opened the bowling, for a six over long-off. India's bowlers have been unplayable on helpful surfaces, but they will have to live with the criticism that on a flatter pitch the visiting side bowled with better plans and discipline. With England bowling you could tell how they were looking to get the batsmen out. If there was a plan to India's bowling the execution was not spot-on: the seamers bowled loose balls both on line and length, and Amit Mishra continued to struggle for impact in a format where batsmen are not obliged to go after him.
Hameed and Cook kept cashing in, the youngster outscoring the veteran, as England reached 70 in 20 overs. India were forced into the defensive in the remaining 17 overs lest they be given about 80 overs to survive on the final day. England didn't go out of their way looking for runs now. Hameed reached his maiden fifty, in the presence of his family who have roots in Gujarat, with a late cut. By stumps the lead had reached 163, and England were on their way to giving India 70 or so tricky overs to bat out on the final day.
England 537 and 114 for 0 (Hameed 62*, Cook 46*) lead India 488 (Vijay 126, Pujara 124, Ashwin 70, Rashid 4-114) by 163 runs