Washington Sundar fell agonisingly short of his first Test hundred as England bowled out India for 365.
The off-spinning allrounder was left stranded on 96 as a run out and two deserved wickets for Ben Stokes in the space of five deliveries ended what had been a profitable morning for the hosts. Resuming with a lead of 89, Sundar and Axar Patel continued their breezy partnership from the night before, bringing up 106 runs between them to take India to their highest score of the series and a commanding first-innings lead of 160.
The pair’s 61 together this morning heaped more misery on the English attack with some engaging strokeplay. But Patel, on 40, was run out after being sent back for a run, before Stokes trapped Ishant Sharma LBW and rattled Mohammad Siraj’s off stump to finish with four for 68 from 27.4 overs. Zak Crawley and Dom Sibley survived a three-over session before the lunch interval to take England to six for no loss, 154 behind.
Saturday’s play began with a show of faith from Joe Root as he handed the ball to Dom Bess to open up in tandem with James Anderson. There was some merit in the choice: with two left-handers, Sundar and Axar Patel, resuming their innings, the off-spinner had his best chance of registering one on the wicket column.
But a two-over spell from the off spinner only served as a reminder of day two’s travails, when Bess’s struggles with length meant England’s other bowlers had to dig even deeper to cover for him. Unfortunately, that theme only continued.
His second delivery was struck down the ground for four by Patel, before Sundar swiped him down the ground for six at the start of his second over. A four threaded through cover off the next ball came via a full toss taking Bess’s non-bouncing delivery count to 12 over the last two days.
With 15 runs conceded, Bess was hooked out of the attack, India’s lead now into triple figures. Perhaps it might have filled the 23-year-old with some comfort that the runs kept flowing in his absence.
Jack Leach, replacing his former Somerset teammate, was taken for 23 runs, primarily by Patel, even skipping down the track to strike him down the ground. No favours from left-arm spinner to left-arm spinner.
By drinks, Sundar and Patel had put on 50 in 14 overs, and there was no change of tact in the second hour even if a more spread field did bring down the scoring rate. But time was always on India’s side, and the steadiness of the eighth-wicket stand meant no undue risks had to be taken. Which makes the events at the end of the 114th over all the more frustrating. For India and, demoralisingly, for Sundar.
Having whipped a ball to the fielder at midwicket, Sundar looked up to find Patel streaking down for a single that would have taken the batsman to 97. Bairstow’s pick-up was swift, his throw accurate and Patel, diving on his return to the nonstriker’s end, was short of his ground after a clean gather and removal of the bails from Root.
It meant the 21-year-old, just four runs away from a maiden century that would have been only his second in first-class cricket, watched on in horror from the nonstriker’s end as Sharma and Siraj fell within the first four balls of the next over.
On the flip side, the four scalps for Stokes felt like justice for a full-hearted time in the field, a stint that began on Thursday, when he opened the bowling for the first time in his career.
As seems to be the way with the allrounder, his job is not done. And when Patel turned a few beyond both right-hander’s edges before the break, you got the sense we might see Stokes with bat in hand later on.
The left-hander top-scored with 55 in England’s 205 on day one. More will be required by the individual and the collective to avoid defeat in this fourth and final Test.