Eng­land bat­tle to put an un­likely vic­tory in sight

Hosts inch ahead as But­tler digs in to lead re­sis­tance Kohli’s de­sire means In­dia can yet turn the ta­bles

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Sport | Fourth Specsavers Test - By Nick Hoult CRICKET NEWS COR­RE­SPON­DENT at the Ageas Bowl

Eng­land’s all-rounders did the don­key work to put their team in a po­si­tion to win the se­ries against In­dia – although the fourth Test is head­ing for an­other tense fin­ish be­tween two flawed but well-matched sides.

Eng­land are 260 for eight with a lead of 233 after an en­gross­ing day of Test cricket. The hosts will feel they are in the bet­ter po­si­tion and In­dia have only once be­fore scored more runs to win a Test out­side Asia. That was when Su­nil Gavaskar made his name in a record run chase in Port of Spain 42 years ago. Vi­rat Kohli has the burn­ing am­bi­tion to pro­duce su­per­hu­man deeds, plus he will take heart from Eng­land’s seam­ers look­ing a bit leggy in the first in­nings and the fact that In­dia have bul­lied Adil Rashid and Moeen Ali be­fore.

Jos But­tler’s 69 was the corner­stone of the re­sis­tance while Ben Stokes clung on to fight for the team as Eng­land inched ahead, de­spite an­other let- down from their un­set­tled top or­der. Sam Cur­ran con­tin­ued his rise with a con­trolled 36 as the game drifted away from In­dia in the last ses­sion but a wicket with the fi­nal ball of the day pro­vided an­other turn.

It was hard day to score runs for ev­ery­one and no­body has strug­gled more for touch re­cently than Alas­tair Cook. It has been his worst sum­mer in Test cricket for eight years with an av­er­age of 22.60 and just one score above 50. Even his loyal, long time men­tor Gra­ham Gooch, warned last week that he was “flat-lin­ing”.

Scores in this match of 17 and 12 have been com­pounded by dis­missals off poor at­tack­ing shots at a time when Eng­land have des­per­ately needed his so­lid­ity. This time he drove at a tempter out­side off stump that KL Rahul jug­gled, ag­o­nis­ingly for Cook, be­fore hold­ing on.

He has kept his coun­sel and those close to the Eng­land team are not sure of his fu­ture in­ten­tions. Surely he will not want to linger, try­ing to con­vince any­one who will lis­ten that he still has one more fight left in him and it would not be a sur­prise if he were to an­nounce this week that the Oval Test will be his last. He has per­formed an Oval res­cue act be­fore of course. In 2010 he made a hun­dred that pre­served his place for a win­ter’s Ashes tour he com­pletely dom­i­nated. Then he was young and hun­gry.

Does he now feel sated by 32 Test hun­dreds and had a belly full of bat­ting un­der the mi­cro­scope? We will know soon enough.

Keaton Jen­nings should have done enough to en­sure he plays at the Oval. His at­tack­ing in­tent against Ravi Ash­win alone was good to see with a win­ter tour to Sri Lanka loom­ing and there was bet­ter in­tent against the seam­ers, too, with Jen­nings bat­ting with the air of a player with noth­ing to lose rather than gripped by a fear of fail­ure that cost oth­ers their place this sum­mer.

The pro­mo­tion of Moeen to No3 for the first time in his Test ca­reer un­der­lined the chaos in Eng­land’s bat­ting. Moeen av­er­ages 52 at No3 in county cricket but he has never been con­sid­ered for the job in the Test team be­cause his de­fence is not sound enough against qual­ity seam bowl­ing.

This felt like a worker bee sac­ri­fic­ing him­self for the queen so the cap­tain could bat in his favourite po­si­tion. It did not work. Moeen lasted only 15 balls and so Root was in early any­way.

Root and Jen­nings took a while to get go­ing but they started to nose Eng­land ahead. Jen­nings took the lead, re­verse-sweep­ing Ash­win for four and next ball play­ing an ortho­dox sweep for an­other boundary. Root drove Mohammed Shami beau­ti­fully down the ground and Eng­land were head­ing to lunch in a po­si­tion to build their lead in the af­ter­noon sun, but Shami nipped one back in and Jen­nings could not get his bat down in time. It was plumb lbw and Eng­land wasted a review try­ing to over­turn it.

Jonny Bairstow’s mind has been scram­bled all week over his role as a spe­cial­ist bats­man and fears he may have lost the gloves for good. He was in the wrong frame of mind to make runs and his shot be­trayed that loss of fo­cus. He played a hor­ri­ble drive to Shami and was bowled first ball for the sec­ond time in three in­nings as mo­men­tum shifted again to In­dia. Eng­land were four down with only a 65-run lead.

This was Root’s chance to play the cap­tain’s in­nings Eng­land have waited for all year. He was in con­trol as a be­calmed Stokes at the other end dug in.

But Stokes called for a poor run to mid-on, where Shami threw down the stumps at the keeper’s end with Root well short of his ground. It was dicey run in one-day cricket let alone a tense Test match but Root ap­peared to give up too early. A des­per­ate dive might just have saved him but Root was run out for the sec­ond time in the se­ries, and the self-in­flicted blow left his side tee­ter­ing with a 95-run lead and only five wick­ets left.

Stokes was pas­sive again and his strike rate this sum­mer, 37, is lower than even Cook. Credit to Stokes for although out of nick, he has tried to play re­spon­si­bly in the mid­dle or­der, grind­ing down the op­po­si­tion to make up for the weak­nesses fur­ther up the chain.

But­tler took the role of lead­ing man, as he did last week in their stand at Trent Bridge. They again nosed Eng­land ahead, tak­ing the lead beyond 150 as Ash­win strug­gled with a hip in­jury that lim­ited his ac­tion and he did not pose the same threat as Moeen 24 hours ear­lier, deny­ing Kohli his trump card.

His only wicket of the day was Stokes when he edged a yorker-length ball to slip as In­dia re­fused to give up. En­ter Cur­ran, a player blessed with the ben­e­fit of youth and so un­en­cum­bered by fear. He was again un­fazed by the pres­sure, tak­ing on the at­tack even after But­tler was dis­missed by the sec­ond new ball. If he con­tin­ues this morn­ing, Cur­ran could be the match-win­ner again.

Break­through: Eng­land cap­tain Joe Root walks off dis­con­so­lately (left) after be­ing run out two short of his fifty; (right) Sam Cur­ran plays through the off­side on his way to an un­beaten 37 as Eng­land gained the up­per hand

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