A bumper crowd pitched up to watch the third day of this second Test which, while not entirely meeting the expectations of the “sold out” signs outside the ground first thing, generated an atmosphere to match a crackling contest out in the middle.
There was no question when the decibel levels peaked, Shubman Gill overcoming a run of low scores and a shaky start to finesse his third Test century by mid-afternoon and push India further into the ascendancy. Gill usually takes a bow upon reaching three-figures yet here, as the spectators erupted, he chose to keep his celebration low key.
But England were not subdued here, instead delivering a characterful showing that belied the lack of experience in their attack – beyond Jimmy Anderson, of course – and the ever-increasing slab of runs mounting up. A bowler down after Joe Root suffered a finger injury in the morning, Ben Stokes marshalled his resources well in the main to bowl India out for 255 in 78.3 overs and set themselves a target of 399 to win.
If achieved, it would represent the highest successful run chase in England’s history, not to mention negotiating a reunion with Jasprit Bumrah after his six-wicket, stump-clattering display of sorcery on day two. As such it was clearly the outside bet overnight. But given their previous best came 18 months ago – 378 knocked off three down at Edgbaston – and Stokes said afterwards he wished it had been more, they weren’t thinking this way.
After Tom Hartley and Rehan Ahmed shared seven wickets – India’s last six falling for just 44 runs – this much was obvious, Zak Crawley and Ben Duckett emerging in positive fashion until the latter was winkled out bat-pad by Ravichandran Ashwin and a fine scrambling catch by local favourite KS Bharat. It saw England close on 67 for one, the nightwatchman, Rehan Ahmed, even hitting a couple of fours in the final over.
Entertaining the possibility of an England win from the outside shows how much convention has been flipped by this lot, not least with the 276 that West Indies chased five down in Delhi in 1987 the previous best by a touring team in India. But the pitch was sleepier than expected, only the occasional one keeping low, as Gill’s increasingly confident 104 from 147 balls stitched together India’s second dig.
Gill did well to survive a morning session in which England struck four times and a series already packed with highlights witnessed a few more. Anderson was impeccable from the off as the hosts began 171 ahead without loss, swiftly taking Rohit Sharma’s off stump out of ground with just his fourth ball – a sumptuous inswinger that wobble-seamed back past the Indian captain’s defence – and persuading Yashasvi Jaiswal to drive to slip.
Then came a couple of moments for which Gill was hugely grateful, twice struck in front by Hartley and Anderson with four runs to his name and both times the right side of the review. The first was a feathered edge the right-hander’s smile suggested he knew little about, while the second, given not out on the field, saw umpire’s call on height deny Anderson. In both instances, it was a matter of millimetres.
As Gill began to find his rhythm, two further strikes came England’s way through some impressive catching. There is little chance Stokes would have held his before his recent knee surgery, taking a stunning diving effort over his shoulder running towards long-off as Shreyas Iyer tried to take on Hartley. Equally, a lesser wicketkeeper than Ben Foakes may well have grassed the low under-edge that Ahmed teased from Rajat Patidar.
If there was one quibble with Stokes it was his use of Anderson. The veteran’s first spell – one that took him to five wickets for the match, the same as last summer’s entire Ashes campaign – was kept to just four overs. And when he bowled either side of lunch it was not at the Dr Vizzy End that had produced his best work. Even Dr Vizzy himself, a generous benefactor at the start of India’s Test journey in the 1930s, but a poor captain by all accounts, might have queried it.
But beyond this, the England captain was hugely enterprising with limited resources. Even as Gill and Axar Patel built a stand of 89 runs from 130 for four at lunch, he was forever making plays, asking questions, and never waiting for the final equation to simply be generated. His use of the review system was also pretty spot on, not least when Gill eventually pulled out the reverse sweep to Shoaib Bashir – the leg side packed – and the ball looped off the glove to Foakes behind the stumps.
It triggered a cascading end to India’s second innings, Bashir instantly swapped out for Hartley and it returned the wicket of the set Patel lbw for 45 thanks to another review. Thereafter only Ashwin managed to offer much resistance, the No 8 the last man out for 28 as Hartley and Ahmed kept their teammates somehow believing.