Gill puts India ahead but England hopeful of Bazball miracle


England 67 for 1 (Crawley 29*, Duckett 28) and 253 need another 332 runs to beat India 396 and 225 (Gill 104, Axar 45, Hartley 4-77, Rehan 3-88, Anderson 2-29)

Ludicrous though it may sound, the chase is on. No team has ever hunted down a target of 399 to win a Test match in India, but no team has ever come out to play with quite such indefatigable optimism as this England team.

By the close of another enthralling day in Visakhapatnam, England’s top order had already chewed 67 runs out of their requirement in 14 overs, for the loss of Ben Duckett, but with Rehan Ahmed’s promotion in the fabled “night-hawk” role reaffirming their determination to chase every scoring option going, and revive India’s recent memories of Edgbaston 2022, when this same side hurtled to a target of 378 with barely a break of sweat.

That they were chasing so many was thanks almost entirely to Shubman Gill, whose third Test century, a gutsy 104 from 147 balls, was his first score of note in 13 increasingly under-pressure innings.

Gill came through an extraordinary ordeal in the first half-hour of the day to underpin a second-innings total of 255 that, in any ordinary Test scenario, would be plenty given the lead India took into it. But in the wake of the Hyderabad miracle, and into the teeth of another hard-hitting half-century stand from England’s openers, nothing quite seems as safe for India as it ought to… notwithstanding the strong likelihood that the magnificent Jasprit Bumrah has another huge contribution to come.

That curious unease was present in every facet of India’s play, up to and including the cathartic roar that greeted R Ashwin’s dismissal of Duckett for 28 in his first over of the innings. But with Zak Crawley thumping his drives with front-foot dominance to reach 29 not out from 50 balls at the close, England closed the day as they had begun it – self-evidently up against it, but swinging their haymakers with ferocious conviction.

India had an overnight lead of 171 with ten wickets standing when their second innings resumed on a hazy morning, and the conditions could not have been more perfect for James Anderson to bring his peerless new-ball attributes to bear. Fresher than he might have been after just 56 overs of rest between innings, Anderson tore out both of India’s openers in the space of nine deliveries; Rohit Sharma, who played for the nipbacker and lost his off stump to an imperceptible hint of away movement, and Yashasvi Jaiswal, the first-innings hero, who chased an outswinger across his bows and snicked a low edge to Joe Root at first slip, for a combined addition of two runs.

England’s day could scarcely have started better, yet it could and probably should have continued in an even more remarkable vein. For the first 17 runs of his innings, Gill was a catatonic bag of nerves – his footwork so frozen that even his first scoring shot, a freebie pull through a Tom Hartley long-hop, appeared to have been executed against his better survival instincts.

One delivery later, even Gill himself thought he was stone-dead as Hartley thumped his planted front pad and extracted the on-field lbw verdict, but after consulting with Shreyas Iyer and deciding to roll the dice, his speculative review showed the slenderest of inside-edges. There would have been no such get-out had Marais Erasmus raised his finger six balls later, however. With the ball still on a string, Anderson jagged another nipbacker into that front pad, but this time Gill was saved by the on-field decision.

Gill began to creep out of his shell once Anderson’s spell was done, and a languid launch for six off Shoaib Bashir seemed to suggest he was finding his feet. But there was another near-miss to come, as he snicked a palpable edge off Hartley, but Root was too wide at a lone slip to lay a hand on it.

By degrees, however, the panic dissipated and the good vibes seeped back into India’s innings. With a diet of singles against the spinners, Gill and Iyer began to inflate that lead, on a surface that was notably more benign than it had been at a similar juncture of the second day’s play. The fifty stand had come up by the time Rehan entered the attack in the 23rd over with a licence to rip his legbreaks, but two drag-downs in his first over allowed Gill to rush towards his first half-century in 13 innings, which he duly reached with another pair of boundaries in Rehan’s third over of the day.

By now, England’s problems had been exacerbated by a finger injury to Root, sustained after fielding a low edge off Iyer in the slip cordon, and with Anderson held back, it took all of Stokes’ ingenuity in the field to coax further breakthroughs from his greenhorn spin attack. And just as in Hyderabad, where his stunning run-out of Ravindra Jadeja had been a key moment of India’s second innings, so it was his own incredible running catch off Hartley that prised out Iyer for 29.

Stokes’ springing of the trap was only part of the story, as he put his recent knee surgery to the ultimate test with a turn from mid-off and a full-tilt sprint towards the boundary, before diving at full-stretch to grab the over-the-shoulder chance. The opportunity had been created by his adjustments earlier in the over, as he brought up the boundary riders to tempt Iyer into the big stroke over the top, and duly lured him into a wild hack across the line.

Though Rehan had been expensive, Stokes was not about to lose faith in his wicket-taking wiles, and three overs later, England had their fourth of the season, courtesy of another superb take from Ben Foakes, whose peerless glovework has been fully appreciated by his team-mates in this Test. Rajat Patidar’s eyes lit up as Rehan fired down an apparent long-hop, but the ball skidded through low to clip his inside-edge, and he was gone for 9.

After lunch, Gill sensed it was time to spread his wings, especially once Anderson had come and gone without great impact. Rehan was launched for six and two fours in consecutive balls to propel him towards his third Test hundred, which he reached shortly after the drinks break with a calm nudge off the hips from Bashir. The look on his face was relief first, delight second, but the importance of his endurance would be all the more keenly felt by the close.

Nevertheless, even with the lead pushing past 350, England still weren’t done in their relentless pursuit of wickets, and once again, it was Stokes’ tinkering that tampered with Gill’s poise. Bashir had endured arguably his least effective spell of the match, and might already have made way for Root’s offspin instead, when Stokes made a show of shoring up Gill’s leg-side field, and before the over was done, he’d attempted a reverse-sweep to open up new avenues, and gloved his shot straight up in the air for Foakes to earn the verdict on review.

The door to India’s lower-order had been opened, and Stokes had enough faith in his rookies to rush straight through it. Axar Patel had batted with poise in an unhurried knock of 45 from 84 balls, but played across the line as Hartley skidded another low-bouncing delivery into his front pad, before KS Bharat and Kuldeep Yadav came and went meekly, with a pair of miscued slogs after a period of resolute blocking.

Only Ashwin found the gumption to get the scoreboard moving again, with a block-and-bash 29, and even he required a life at slip to do so, but after Bumrah’s 26-ball duck had ended with a fence to gully to give Hartley his fourth of the innings, Rehan wrapped up the innings with his own third wicket, courtesy of another super low take from Foakes.

Where previous teams might have viewed an hour of batting against Bumrah with trepidation, England saw it as a chance to make a dent in their target – and a run-rate of 4.78 was precisely what Brendon McCullum had ordered, with Anderson later confirming that he’d told them to go for the win, even if they’d been chasing 600.

Bumrah, inevitably, was a splice-hounding menace with the new ball as he beat Crawley’s edge repeatedly and even got one to scuttle on an off-stump line, but Mukesh Kumar’s poor match continued as each opener scalped a brace of boundaries in his two overs for 19. Kuldeep entered the attack to be planted over midwicket for six by Crawley, while Rehan lived up to his billing with two fours in the final three balls of the day, both streaky but effective slaps off Axar.

All manner of records will have to tumble if England are to hunt this target down, but it perhaps won’t be lost on India that went they set the benchmark with their pursuit of 387 to beat England in Chennai in 2008, it was a certain Virender Sehwag who broke the back of the chase with his pulsating half-century on the fourth evening. If he was the original Bazballer, there’s a whole brigade of them charging over the brow now.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket

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