Mark Wood's fast-bowling brilliance was followed by a resilient rearguard from Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane on the fourth day of the Lord's Test, setting it up for an exciting final-day finish. The visitors were 181/6 at stumps, 154 ahead of England with Rishabh Pant unbeaten on 14.
England's masterful use of 'X-factor' Mark Wood
Going into the third innings of what has been a gripping Test thus far, it was evident that the face-off between Indian openers and the English attack would set the tone for the remainder of the game. After all, Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul hadn't allowed England to exert pressure on India's vulnerable middle-order in the series yet. The pair had made England wait for 225, 67 and 262 deliveries in the first three innings respectively for an opening breakthrough. It looked no different on Sunday, with Rohit and Rahul largely at comfort during the first 30 minutes.
Swing in overs 1-10 this Test:— The CricViz Analyst (@cricvizanalyst) August 15, 2021
1st Inns - 1.4 degrees
2nd Inns - 2.0 degrees
3rd Inns - 0.5 degrees#ENGvIND
With not much movement on offer for James Anderson and Ollie Robinson, Joe Root opted for the raw and aggressive pace of Mark Wood. The tearaway quick injected the English bowling with more intent, purpose, and aggression right from the word go. The expected short-ball barage was expertly mixed with fuller-length stuff in between. With his continual intensity and discipline, Wood reaped dividends in just his third over, as KL Rahul nicked behind a 93mph thunderbolt through to Jos Buttler. India's first-innings centurion was back to the hut for a single-digit score.
Since records began in 2006, Mark Wood's dismissal of KL Rahul is the eighth quickest ball to take a wicket for England in a home Test. #ENGvIND— The CricViz Analyst (@cricvizanalyst) August 15, 2021
By his fourth over, Wood was back to delivering his sharp back-of-a-length stuff. He had settled into a rhythm and invited Rohit Sharma to play the instinctive pull. Despite one flying for a top-edged six over long-leg, the 31-year-old persisted with the tactic, and in the same over, had the right-hander mistime one straight through to Moeen Ali at deep-square leg. England had managed to send back two of India's in-form men without conceding a lead to have a crack at an out-of-form middle-order.
Virat Kohli errs on the off-stump line, again!
Virat Kohli - the batsman, the captain - is all about dominance. He absolutely loves to feel the bat on the ball and dictate terms to the bowlers. He doesn't mind playing the drives and defending balls away from his body, even in Tests, and loves to seize every opportunity to score. That might not put him at much risk on flatter surfaces at home, but it does make him vulnerable on the fourth-stump line in a place like England, something we had seen a lot in 2014.
On Sunday, it was a déjà vu of his dismissals in the ongoing series, as for the third time in a row, Kohli, with a big bat-pad gap, poked at a wide delivery from Sam Curran, which he should have ideally left. The bowler needs to be credited too, having set the right-hander up with an inswinger to follow it up with one holding its line.
As per Cricviz, the ball which dismissed Virat Kohli was the fourth widest he faced, and the second widest he played at. Drawn in by the angle across, Kohli failed to curb his natural instincts, which resulted in his downfall.
In England, it's as much about leaving the deliveries well and showing precision on the fourth stump line, as much it is about playing strokes that help you achieve success. No one knows it better than the Indian skipper, who had shown monk-like patience and application when India last toured England three years ago. But this time around, the right-hander has looked closer to the 2014 version of himself. It's something India least needs, as they seek their first Test series win in England in 14 years.
Pujara and Rahane's epic rearguard
"When the going gets tough, the tough gets going."
On Sunday, the experienced duo of Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara symbolized every bit of fight, resilience, courage and proper Test-match batsmanship in an epic rearguard. At 55/3, just 28 ahead of England in their second innings, the hosts needed stability and assurance, and the pair provided just that. During a resilient fourth-wicket stand of 100 runs from 297 deliveries, they weathered a short-ball barrage from Wood and Moeen's controlled off-breaks to lead India's fightback.
Pujara's slow batting has often been a subject of debate, at times even criticism, and Kohli's constant emphasis on intent only adds to the discussions further. But on Saturday, it was all about patience. As ever, Pujara was ready to play the waiting game, much to the frustrattion of his opponents. He opened his account off the 35th ball he faced, which was acknowledged with loud cheers from the Lord's crowd. The sequence was repeated after he had played out his 200th ball, before Mark Wood ended the 49.4-over stay with a well directed bouncer.
For Rahane, who is known for his counter-attacking knocks to drive India out of trouble, the day was all about fight. Much like his MCG masterclass eight months ago, the vice-captain showcased a great mix of patience and smart shot selection in a crucial 61-run knock. The pair led India's fightback to setup an exciting final day's play. The larger picture though, lies in their return to form, much to the relief of the team management as much as the fans.