India did encounter another mini middle-order collapse but Thakur (60 off 72 balls) and Pant (50 off 107 balls) joined forces to add 100 runs for the seventh wicket
Shardul Thakur smashed his second half-century of the match while Rishabh Pant showed restraint while returning to form as India reached a commendable 445 for 8 at tea on day four of the fourth Test.
India have now taken their overall lead to 346 and anything in the range of 350 will be a Herculean task for the home team to chase down on a fifth day track, which has shown some signs of turn.
India did encounter another mini middle-order collapse as they slumped from 296 for 3 to 312 for 6 in a space of 10 overs in the first session but Thakur (60 off 72 balls) and Pant (50 off 107 balls) joined forces to add 100 runs for the seventh wicket.
If that wasn’t enough, Umesh Yadav (13 batting) and Jasprit Bumrah (19 batting) used the long handle gleefully, adding muscle to the already beefed up total.
It did help that the pitch became flatter as the day progressed and under bright sunshine, strokeplay became easier for both the batters as they could hit through the line.
While Shardul, who is fondly called ‘Beefy’ by team’s head coach Ravi Shastri for his Ian Botham-like exploits, is reinforcing his value as a bowling all-rounder. His three straight drives were as good as any of the shots that his illustrious seniors Rohit Sharma and Cheteshwar Pujara hit on the third day.
It was a sight to behold as he picked an Ollie Robinson (32-7-105-2) slower ball early and dispatched it over long-on to reach 49 and then a pull shot for a single helped him complete his fifty.
In fact a couple of his straight drives came after 50 and it was skipper Joe Root, who finally had him edge one in the slips to get England a breakthrough. By then, he had hit seven fours and a six.
If Shardul’s 57 in the first innings had helped the team reach a respectable total, his approach in the second innings ensured that Pant wasn’t in his usually “harakiri” mode that brought about his downfall during a number of occasions this summer.
In fact, the left hander curbed his instincts to charge down the track and played as per merit of each delivery. Only when he was in his 30’s that he lofted Moeen Ali for a one bounce four and in his 40’s charged out to slash James Anderson over covers for a boundary.
His innings had 76 dot balls which showed that he had learnt from his mistakes but he was distraught when he failed to get the elevation, offering a return catch to Moeen.
In the first session of the day, Virat Kohli (44, 96 balls) showed promise with his cover drives but a beautiful slider from Moeen saw his back as his forward defensive prod found the outside edge into the slip’s hands.
But amid a good batting performance, what struck like a sore thumb was vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane’s another failure in what were the best batting conditions so far in the series.
Having survived a strong leg before appeal courtesy DRS, Rahane played across the line to a straight delivery from Chris Woakes (30-8-72-2) and his skiper at the other end told him not to review.
The veteran of 78 Tests with another failure is slowly making his place untenable in the playing XI.
His sequence of scores since WTC final reads — 49, 15, 5, 1, 61, 18, 10, 14, 0. A total of 173 runs in nine completed innings doesn’t augur well for the Mumbaikar.