Despite Ollie Pope 81 and Chris Woakes 50, England’s fourth Test against India remains tense after a tense second day at The Kia Oval. Pope, who had missed the first three Tests, added 89 with Jonny Bairstow, who contributed 37, and shared 71 with Moeen Ali, who contributed 35.
Woakes, himself back in the side after more than a year away, followed his 4-55 on day one by crashing 45 for the last wicket with James Anderson to take England to 290 all out. India had just over an hour to bat, with Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul leading the tourists to 43-0 and cutting the deficit to 56.
Rory Burns had a chance to catch Rohit, but he failed to pick up an edge off Anderson and did not get a hand to the opportunity. Both teams will enter the weekend knowing they have a chance to go up 2-1 with one Test remaining.
Test and series hang in balance
This fantastic series is still hanging in the balance after another arm-wrestling day in which neither side could make a decisive move. India may have harbored hopes of a first-innings lead after reducing England to 62-5 from 53-3 overnight, only for Pope to keep them at bay.
England’s bid for complete control was hampered by some poor strokes – Moeen played a wild hack just as India appeared demoralized – before Woakes reversed the momentum again with their lead at 64 when the ninth wicket fell.
The scales of history are stacked against India. A team hasn’t come back from such a large deficit to win a Test on this ground since 1902. However, the pitch appears to be ideal for batting, with much less assistance for bowlers than England had when they dismissed India for 191 on day one.
There was one moment of stupidity among the fascinating cricket. After colliding with England batsman Bairstow, a man who entered the field of play during the second and third Tests did so again here and was arrested on suspicion of assault.
England selections do it again
In this series, England has recalled Haseeb Hameed, Dawid Malan, and Craig Overton, all of whom contributed to the victory at Headingley. Pope and Woakes have made significant contributions since their return.
Pope, in his 20th Test, had never played at The Oval, his home ground, where he averages just under 100 in first-class cricket. Arriving in the second over of the day, he quickly counter-attacked with Bairstow, playing silky drives and crisp clips. He eventually settled into a pattern of calm accumulation.
Pope reached 50 for the first time in nine Tests and appeared to be on his way to a second century, only to be run out by Shardul Thakur. Woakes was left with only Anderson for the company after Ollie Robinson was bowled recklessly swiping at Ravindra Jadeja.
Woakes had 18 when Anderson arrived, but he swung through the off side and muscled through the leg side for 11 fours in a 58-ball half-century.
Woakes was run out while attempting to pinch a run to the wicketkeeper that would have allowed him to keep the strike, bringing an end to a riotous last-wicket stand in which England scored at a run-a-ball.
India hang in
India could have been out of the game after being reduced to 123-7 on day one, but they have fought back to have a chance of winning the series.
Although pace bowlers Umesh Yadav and Jasprit Bumrah were excellent in the early morning, there were times when England was batting comfortably in the afternoon that it would have been advantageous to have been able to call on omitted off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin.
Moeen Ali might have been lbw to Bumrah on 14, but no one appealed, and captain Virat Kohli reacted angrily when the umpires were asked to change the ball just before tea.
Nonetheless, with their own perseverance and some wickets provided by England, India began their second innings knowing that a total of more than 300 would put the hosts under severe pressure.
They got a boost when second slip Burns missed Rohit’s edge off Anderson. Burns barely reacted as the ball sailed past his shin for England’s fifth missed opportunity of the game. And, by the end of the day, India’s calm progress meant that England was more grateful for the chance to regroup.
Is India in the box seat?
“If you go back to yesterday, 13 wickets fell. Today there has only been seven and that tells you the pitch is getting better. It will be a good day for batting tomorrow. You have to fancy this India batting line-up to play to the standard we know they can play.
“The pitch will tell you that you should bat all day tomorrow. They will probably score at just over three and over, so there will be 250 runs on offer. That would give them a 200-run lead going into day four, which would make this game very interesting indeed,” Former England captain Michael Vaughan said.