Mark Wood and Moeen Ali finally break India resistance in fascinating duel
The boos rung around Lord’s at 6.03pm on the fourth evening as Joe Root moved to bring on a fast bowler and take the second new ball, only for the umpires Richard Illingworth and Michael Gough to deem the light too poor and call stumps.
Eight lost overs made for a frustrating end to proceedings – not least with the floodlights in operation – but the match situation presents a fifth day that is both pregnant with possibilities and could well witness a bumper “People’s Monday” crowd if folks take advantage of tickets priced at £20 for adults and a tenner for kids.
With the forecast dry they will see India resume their second innings on 181 for six with the potentially electric Rishabh Pant at the crease on 14 but Ishant Sharma, the first of four candidates for No 11, alongside him. India lead by 154 runs and, whatever the final target, England face a tense run on a dozy pitch that still occasionally bursts into life.
This was the case during the final session of the fourth day. An afternoon of dead-batted defiance from Chesteshwar Pujara, 45 from 206 balls, and Ajinkya Rahane, 61 from 146, was followed by a three-wicket intervention that keeps England in the hunt to reward Root’s masterful 180 on the third day with a 1-0 series lead.
Mark Wood was the instigator here before a late tumble in the deep saw his day end with a potential shoulder injury. Having earlier knocked over both openers, Wood had returned with the ragged old ball in 76th over and got one to rear spitefully off the surface, catch Pujara’s glove and offer a simple catch to Root at slip.
Though Pujara had shut out some of the swirling questions over his place, delivering the type of innings on which recent series wins in Australia have been built, a dogged 50-over stand worth 100 runs had been broken. And when Moeen Ali followed this up with the wickets of Rahane and Ravindra Jadeja, suddenly the draw had drifted.
The Pujara-Rahane vigil had begun on the stroke of lunch, Sam Curran delivering his first contribution of the match after his wicketless first innings and a golden duck on day three. It was the scalp of Virat Kohli, no less, leaving the tourists 55 for three and only 28 runs ahead, with these two previously out-of-sorts batsmen forced to rebuild.
This was a bit of a throwback to the pair’s duel battle during the 2018 series too, Curran’s left-arm angle creating indecision with first a tight lbw shout – declined on height and leading to Root’s first burnt review – and Kohli then pushing out to a wide first ball of his following over and feathering to Jos Buttler behind the stumps.
As the peroxide-blond Curran hared off for a lap of the outfield a fine session for England’s support cast had been capped, Wood earlier taking the hard new Dukes ball off Ollie Robinson’s hands after only three overs – the Sussex man sent down just 10 in total – and striking twice before India had taken the lead.
Pace accounted for both incisions too. The first-innings centurion KL Rahul fiddled at a 93.7mph ball in the channel for an edge behind on five and Rohit Sharma fell victim to a fine diving catch from Moeen at deep square leg on 21 when looking to repeat the handsome six he had heaved into the Grand Stand three balls earlier.
India’s morning had begun with a flag ceremony at the team hotel to mark the country’s Independence Day and in the afternoon Rahane and Pujara matched this stirring show of national pride with a session of resolute defence and 49 runs. Bairstow’s drop off Rahane on 31, when a rare long hop from Moeen was cut to point, represented the one chance missed, while Root’s desperation also led to a second failed review.
The England captain had tried plenty on a day when his banker, Anderson, sent down 18 immaculate if unrewarded overs. Wood operated as the enforcer to various leg-side traps and Moeen fleetingly extracted some turn out the footmarks Wood had created outside off-stump. Curran, despite being a left-armer, appears too light-footed to assist the off-spinner here but his own switches between over and around asked questions.
Chiefly this was two hours high on tension and low on drama for the spectators who had cheered Pujara’s first run from the 35th delivery he faced – even breaking out into chants of his name – and offered similar ironic ovations for landmarks such as double-figures, 100 balls faced (when he was 11 not out) and then the big 200.
Needless to say, none of these matched the eruption that met Wood’s removal of Pujara in the evening, nor Moeen’s patience being rewarded when Rahane edged behind poking at an arm-ball, and the left-handed Jadeja was bowled neck and crop for three by a beauty that pitched on middle and off.
India had batted diligently without taking the game away and the question now, with Pant unbeaten but the tail long, is what England’s target will be on the final day. Having eschewed a chase of 273 in 75 overs against New Zealand here in June, it will be interesting to see if they actually go for it this time.