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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Ali Martin at the ACA-VDCA Cricket Stadium

England start record run chase after Gill century helps India set target of 399

Zak Crawley (right) will resume at the crease for England on day four with Rehan Ahmed.
Zak Crawley (right) will resume at the crease for England on day four with Rehan Ahmed. Photograph: Stu Forster/Getty Images

As the coaches carrying the two teams returned to their hotel on Sunday evening, a large crowd had gathered outside to cheer them in. It was no less than the players deserved after another compelling day in this series, one that featured Shubman Gill delighting the locals with his third Test century and yet had England still believing.

Even Gill said his side’s chances of making it 1-1 in the series were only “70-30” at stumps on day three, an appraisal that said plenty about the impact Ben Stokes and ­Brendon McCullum have had not only on their players, but opponents too. England had been set a target of 399, what would be their highest successful chase in history if reeled in and by some distance the highest by a ­visiting team on Indian soil. But having raced to 67 for one in 14 overs, it was hard to completely discount them.

In front of a bumper crowd – albeit short of the sellout that the signs ­outside the stadium stated – Stokes and his men had begun the day ­trailing by 171 with 10 wickets still to claim. Given the inexperience in their attack beyond Jimmy Anderson, and with an early finger injury preventing Joe Root from bowling for most of the day, what followed was hugely impressive. India were bowled out for 255 in 78.3 overs, their last six ­wickets falling for just 44 runs, as Stokes simply refused to wait for the final equation.

Shubman Gill sweeps his way towards three figures in Visakhapatnam.
Shubman Gill sweeps his way towards three figures in Visakhapatnam. Photograph: Dibyangshu Sarkar/AFP/Getty Images

It was at this ground in 2016 that England attempted to block out five sessions when set 405, Alastair Cook issuing a one-size-fits-all blockathon to a side packed with strokemakers. Ben Duckett was among them, his tortured 16-ball duck emblematic of the plan’s central flaw. Yet this time around Duckett swatted his second and third deliveries to the rope and was one-half of a 50-run opening stand with Zak Crawley that came in just shy of 11 overs.

Duckett fell before the close, ­Ravichandran Ashwin teasing a ­bat-pad catch that was wonderfully taken in front of the stumps by local ­favourite Srikar Bharat. But out strode Rehan Ahmed, some throwdowns between innings having hinted at the nighthawk role and this spunky 19-year-old duly ­signed off for the day with a couple of fours. Crawley walked off alongside him, unbeaten on 29, one mighty six off Kuldeep Yadav ­having underlined how England intended to approach this one.

Entertaining the possibility of an England win shows how much convention has been flipped by this team. But then after Root and Jonny Bairstow set England’s ­current benchmark in 2022 – the 378 knocked off at Edgbaston, three down – Stokes did say he half-wished it had been more. The pitch on day three in ­Visakhapatnam was also much ­sleepier than expected, only the occasional one keeping low as Gill’s increasingly confident 104 from 147 balls stitched together India’s ­second innings.

Ben Stokes takes a diving catch to dismiss India’s Shreyas Iyer for 29 off the bowling of Tom Hartley.
Ben Stokes takes a diving catch to dismiss India’s Shreyas Iyer for 29 off the bowling of Tom Hartley. Photograph: Stu Forster/Getty Images

It was Gill’s demise in the afternoon that sparked India’s collapse, Stokes packing the leg-side for young Shoaib Bashir, inducing an unfamiliar reverse sweep from his mark and having a catch off the glove given out on review. But as much as Ahmed and Tom Hartley deserved plaudits for then shutting down ­proceedings, sharing seven wickets in the innings and belying their status as Test novices, so much went back to the morning.

Anderson was impeccable in the session, a spell of four overs, two for six seeing Rohit Sharma’s off-stump detonated with just his fourth ball – a sumptuous inswinger that ­wobble-seamed back past the India captain’s defence – and Yashasvi Jaiswal driving to slip soon after. England were awake in the field, too, reducing India to 130 for four by lunch – a lead of 273 – through a couple of ­blinding catches. There is little chance Stokes would have held his before his recent knee operation, ­holding a ­diving effort over his shoulder ­running towards long-off as Shreyas Iyer, on 29, tried to take down Hartley. Equally, a lesser wicket­keeper than Ben Foakes might well have grassed the low under-edge that Ahmed teased from Rajat Patidar on nine. For the second innings in a row, Foakes did not concede a single bye either.

Gill enjoyed a couple of near-misses on four, successfully reviewing an lbw for Hartley thanks to an inside edge he seemed to know little about, then seeing umpire’s call go his way on height when Stokes enquired about another shout from Anderson. But soon India’s ­previously out-of-sorts No 3 started to purr, adding 89 with Axar Patel and, through diligent stroke play dashed with occasional brute force, hitting three figures. That he celebrated in low key ­fashion, rather than his usual bow to the crowd, suggested relief.

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This soon turned to anguish when Stokes and Bashir hatched their plan, India then losing their way as ­Hartley and Ahmed set to work impressively. Once Patel fell lbw to one that kept low from the probing Hartley, only Ashwin pushed back, the last man to fall for 29 as Foakes snaffled another sharp catch. The hosts are still strong favourites, not least with the ball about to hit the age at which ­Jasprit Bumrah wreaked havoc on day two. But an England team that refuses to park the bus are somehow still alive.

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