x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

India are facing an uphill struggle against England

Alastair Cook’s team have so far achieved an almost perfect template, which leaves them needing just six wickets on the final day.

India’s wicketkeeper captain MS Dhoni, centre,leads his team off for lunch on the fourth day of the third cricket Test match between England and India at The Ageas Bowl cricket ground in Southampton on July 30, 2014. AFP PHOTO / OLLY GREENWOOD
India’s wicketkeeper captain MS Dhoni, centre,leads his team off for lunch on the fourth day of the third cricket Test match between England and India at The Ageas Bowl cricket ground in Southampton on July 30, 2014. AFP PHOTO / OLLY GREENWOOD

England were bang on course to end their long winless run as India stumbled in pursuit of a record run chase at the Ageas Bowl in Southampton on Day 4 of the third Test.

Alastair Cook’s team have failed to win a Test since clinching the Ashes at Durham almost a year ago, but here they have so far achieved an almost perfect template, which leaves them needing just six wickets on the final day.

England bowling coach David Saker reserved special praise for his bowlers as England took control.

Having needed only 14 balls to bring India’s first innings to an end on 330, England then declared at tea having made 205 for four in their second innings to set India what would be a highest fourth innings run chase of 445 runs to win the third Test.

Their quest for a first victory in 11 Tests became all the more probable as India then stuttered to stumps on day four on 112 for four in their second innings and, given that the visitors still require 333 runs to win with their top four batsman back in the pavilion thanks to some fine work by England’s attack, Saker paid tribute to his charges.

He told Sky Sports 2: “The impressive thing has been their attitude. They’ve got stuck in and just gone and done their work and the results have come with that and that’s testament to this group.

“We’ve got a young group, pretty much other than Jimmy (Anderson) and Stuart (Broad), who have been really good in the way they have led us in this Test.”

The only disappointment, as Cook (70no) confirmed his much-needed return to form with a second half-century of the match and James Anderson marked his 32nd birthday with a five-wicket haul in India’s first-innings, was that barely a third of this ground’s 17,500 capacity was occupied.

A Sunday start, and therefore midweek finish, in this middle instalment of a hectic five-match series, has seen to it that, if England are to prevail today, they are likely to do so in front of another sparse crowd.

Cook unsurprisingly chose not to enforce the follow-on after Anderson (five for 53) had taken the two wickets needed in the space of six balls.

Then after the captain, Sam Robson (13), Gary Balance (38), Ian Bell (23) and Joe Root (56) batted through 40.4 overs to set India’s task, spin came into play on a wearing surface and the visitors faltered.

Cook had calculated that a minimum 132 overs insured adequately against the improbable and gave England significant prospect of levelling up the series at 1-1, with two Tests to play.

His confidence grew with the inexplicable run out of a casual Murali Vijay in the 12th over and continued to rise as Cheteshwar Pujara, Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli all came and went to leave India at stumps with a task that was looking more Himalayan with each ball.

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