England openers set up thrilling finish to fourth Test against India

·4-min read

Rory Burns and Haseeb Hameed held firm on Sunday to give England hope of a record-breaking win in the fourth Test against India at the Oval.

England were 77-0 at the close of the fourth day, needing a further 291 runs to reach a daunting target of 368 after India had piled up 466 in their second innings, with Rishabh Pant and Shardul Thakur sharing a stand of exactly 100.

But left-hander Burns was 31 not out on his Surrey home ground and fellow opener Hameed 43 not out to set up a tantalising finish, with this five-match series already intriguingly poised at 1-1.

India have again omitted off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin, a bowler with 413 Test wickets to his credit but yet to feature this series, on an Oval pitch renowned for taking turn late in the game.

- 'Massive role for Jadeja' -

Left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja bowled tidily but without success in a spell of 0-28 in 13 overs.

"It's poised to be an excellent game, I thought the boys batted excellently tonight," England all-rounder Moeen Ali told Sky Sports. "Jadeja is going to be the biggest threat."

Meanwhile India batting coach Vikram Rathour told reporters: "Jadeja will play a massive role tomorrow...He's bowled really well today, with a lot of control and did create opportunities. Tomorrow, with a little bit of luck, I think those opportunities will turn into wickets."

And the odds are still in the tourists' favour.

The most England have made more to win in the fourth innings of a Test is 362-9, requiring 359, against Australia at Headingley in 2019.

But Ben Stokes, whose unbeaten century saw England to that thrilling one-wicket win two years ago, is not playing in this series while the all-rounder takes a mental health break from all cricket.

When India captain Virat Kohli was caught at slip off spinner Moeen for 44 - his 21st successive Test innings without a hundred -- India had a healthy but not unassailable lead of 213 runs.

Pant (50) and Thakur (60), however, shared a partnership of 100 in just 155 balls.

For Thakur, fit following a hamstring injury that had kept him out since the drawn first Test in Nottingham, it was his second fifty of the match following his 57 in India's first-innings 191.

Even James Anderson, Test cricket's most successful fast bowler, was made to look every one of his 39 years when Thakur hoisted him through deep midwicket, with the ball no longer deviating in the air or off the pitch.

England's plight was summed up when, with India 376-6, Pant was sent back by Thakur after going for a needlessly risky single on 37 only for Moeen to miss with a shy at the stumps from midwicket while Hameed, who fumbled the return, also failed to run him out.

Thakur's third fifty in four Tests came in just 65 balls, including five fours and a superb straight six off seamer Ollie Robinson.

England captain Joe Root eventually had Thakur edging his occasional off-spin to Craig Overton at slip before Pant, batting responsibly after repeatedly giving his wicket away this series, was caught and bowled by Moeen.

Despite an innings that saw England spend more than a11 hours in the field, Chris Woakes, playing his first Test in over a year, took an economical 3-83 in 32 overs to go with his 4-55 in India's first innings and the all-rounder's 50 in England's first-innings 290.

India resumed Sunday on 270-3, a lead of 171 runs.

Rohit Sharma top-scored with 127, his first overseas Test century coming after he was missed twice in the slips, and together with Cheteshwar Pujara (61) shared a second-wicket partnership of 153.

Woakes reduced India to 296-5 on Sunday in a burst of 2-0 in nine balls as he had both Jadeja (17) and the struggling Ajinkya Rahane (0) lbw.

India head coach Ravi Shastri had to remain in the team hotel after testing positive for Covid-19 late Saturday, with bowling coach Bharat Arun, fielding coach Ramakrishnan Sridhar and physiotherapist Nitin Patel forced to self-isolate as well.

"Of course we are missing them massively," said Rathour. "It was in the morning a bit of a distraction. We had a word, we spoke and decided we had to focus on the issue in hand which is the cricket."

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