James Anderson and Ben Stokes bowled their hearts out to push India on to the back foot, but Rishabh Pant’s methodical madness and a classy Washington Sundar changed the complexion of the game as the home team finished the second day of the fourth and final Test against England with a lead of 89 runs.
Thanks to the 113-run seventh-wicket partnership between centurion Pant and Sundar, India breezed past England’s first innings total of 205. With Axar Patel lending support to Sundar after Pant’s dismissal, India reached 294 for seven at stumps at Motera.
India was tottering at 149/6 when Sundar walked out to join Pant 25 minutes before tea, but they relied on their defence and rotated the strike till almost an hour into the final session.
Pant waited for the England attack – having entered the game a bowler short – to lose its zing. Once India trudged close to England’s total – and with the new ball approaching – Pant switched gears flawlessly. It started with two fours in three balls off Stokes to help the host level the scores, and the next over saw him repeating the streak against Joe Root’s part-time off-spin.
By the time Anderson, who had till then conceded just 19 runs off his 17 overs, ran in with the second red ball, India had raced to a lead of 18 runs. The next over saw India scoring 36 runs to swing the pendulum firmly in its favour.
Pant welcomed Anderson with a lofted off-drive and a swat through cover off the first two deliveries. The first ball of the next over saw him dispatching Stokes through midwicket from outside off. While Pant was taking calculated risks, Sundar crunched two more boundaries in the over, his cut through point being the highlight.
Pant’s improvisation reached its peak when he reverse-ramped Anderson for a four over slips to enter the 90s. It was fitting then that he sent Root packing over the midwicket fence in the next over to raise his bat for a memorable hundred. After being patient for his first 50 (82 balls), it took Pant just 33 balls for his second.
Root latched on to a sharp chance in the 85th over to end Pant’s onslaught. Meanwhile, Sundar not only crossed his fifty, but also ensured that the England bowlers will continue to face the heat on the third morning.
For the better part of the day, however, the England bowlers were in control as Anderson, Stokes and Jack Leach bowled tight lines. While Leach accounted for Cheteshwar Pujara for the fourth time in the series, captain Virat Kohli fiddled around with a short ball by Stokes to nick behind.
At 40/3, the onus was on Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane to resurrect the innings. Rohit respected the bowlers while Rahane got off the blocks with a flurry of boundaries. In the last over before lunch, Rahane poked at one by Anderson that pitched in the perfect corridor.
When Rohit couldn’t tackle Stokes’ reverse swing one hour after lunch and with R. Ashwin’s soft dismissal soon afterwards, India was in a real spot of bother. But Pant and Washington ensured the India camp was full of smiles at the end of the day.