Strange as it may sound, India didn't really need to bat on day three of the third Test in Nottingham. Why? The highest fourth-innings' chase at Trent Bridge is 284 by England versus New Zealand back in 2004.
India's lead at the end of day two alone was 292 runs, and on evidence of the first English innings (out for just 161), they already had enough. Even so, sport – and cricket therein – doesn't quite work like that. Rules and pace of the game have changed in these last 14 years, and in this T20 era new calculations come into consideration.
One aspect though hasn't changed. Test cricket still is about grinding down the opposition. Even if India didn't need the runs, they needed to win the mental battle, not just against their opponents but also their own demons. Defeats at Birmingham and Lord's had put a question mark on the credentials of an otherwise top batting line-up. On Monday, without pressure and in best batting conditions, India simply had to make it count.
James Anderson had other plans though. There is a desperate hunger in his eyes, one that underlines why he is the best pacer in the world. Let it be said here that he has been unlucky through this series. Before Monday began, England had dropped 13 out of 18 catches in the slips during the last five Indian innings. Anderson can surely claim some of those, especially against Virat Kohli whom he is yet to get out in this series.
Number 14 came early in the day then, when Jos Buttler dropped Cheteshwar Pujara at second slip. Anderon walked away in exasperation, and for good reason. It was an awe-inducing spell – 7-3-7-0. You cannot often say that a bowler deserves wickets, for their job description is to work the batsmen out. But Anderson deserved that wicket.
Pujara, on the other hand, deserved that stroke of luck. Off late, there have been too many ups and downs in his Test career that nearly threaten his spot in the Indian squad. From twin run-outs in Centurion, to poor form in County cricket, to being dropped in Birmingham, to another run-out at Lord's, and to the poor hook shot in the first innings here – Pujara has been living the like of a man who simply cannot get a break.
This was his moment of liberation in more ways than one. Without the burden of having to save his team, Pujara could find himself once again. Dropping anchor, taking his own sweet time, leaving deliveries and presenting a dead ball, without a care in the world about scoring runs as per the ticking clock – this is what he does best. It was almost by some grand design that he had Kohli on the other end, who has often spoke about intent. This was Pujara showing what that word truly means to him.
In the first hour of play, Pujara scored 8 runs of 51 balls. Kohli didn't score too many either. It was the pattern throughout this day, as 70 runs came in the first session and 76 in the second. It can be argued that England bowled well and held their lines, denying Indian batsmen the opportunity to score freely. For, when have you seen Kohli scored a magnificent hundred, and yet used the word 'accumulate' instead of 'dominate'.
While Pujara was busy dropping anchor, Kohli twisted the meaning of word, domination. Make no mistake this was him at his imperious best, yet something was different about the manner in which he scored runs. He wasn't being outscored by Pujara, and not fighting free of the chokehold England bowlers held on them. For once, he was just biding time.
That word is of vital importance. Kohli, as captain, likes to give enough freedom to his bowlers to attack the batsmen at all times. It is only possible if they have a tall score behind them, and ample time to bowl at the opposition batsmen. This is a template India often used in home conditions, when their spinners are unleashed on days four and five.
England can be a different setting though. Despite playing four pacers (counting Hardik Pandya as one yes, after his five-wicket haul on Sunday), India cannot afford not to allow them sufficient time or runs to bowl out England. By batting nearly the entire day, Kohli, Pujara and the remaining Indian batsmen made sure that their bowlers have now got a free pass at Joe Root and company with six sessions still remaining.
Most of all, it is an approach underlining the influence of coach Ravi Shastri. He is someone who likes to give back to the opposition as good as he gets. England destroyed India's methodology in the first Test, and then went on to destroy their confidence in the second Test. This was payback time, atleast in the coach's book.
By putting up a 521-run target, almost twice more than England's previous fourth innings' best here, India have thrown down the gauntlet. They are simply asking the hosts to do the impossible, in full knowledge that there is no possible way back for them at Nottingham.
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