In away Tests in recent memory, India have hardly been in a position of defending the target in the last innings. Except of course the final of the World Test Championship, when the target was a paltry 139.
If one has to look for similarities for the current Test between England and India at Lord’s, they would have to go way back to the Test between these two sides at the same venue in 2014. The target was higher, 319, a number India would have loved to defend but, the situation is similar. England taking a slender first-innings lead and a mouth-watering fifth day on the cards. It was India’s tail then that wagged to help India take a decent lead. India would expect something similar going into the fifth day of the current Test.
For India, the fourth day did not go as planned. They lost the openers before getting into the lead. Virat Kohli chased a wide one again soon after. If not for the two senior men playing for their spot – Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane – the game would have been over by now. But, ball jumping of a length and turning from the rough mean India lost quick wickets before bad light resulted in early stumps with India leading by 154 runs.
Given the uneven bounce observed late on the fourth day, even if England bowl out India early in the day, a target of around 175 on the last day of a fourth innings will be tricky.
"This will be a typical fifth-day wicket of a Test match, where the ball will go up and down and is also turning like we saw. So, again like I said earlier, if we can take the target near 200 runs, then it won't be easy for England," said Vikram Rathour, India’s batting coach after the fourth day’s play.
"If the ball stays up and down, like we are seeing when the ball is hard, then, if we can add 30-40 runs more and take 1-2 early England wickets, then there will be pressure on them,” he added. But the crucial part is adding 30-40 runs. Let us not forget that England will start the day fresh with a new maroon ball in hand. All Rishabh Pant has alongside him are batsmen who until recently were seen as a part of India’s lengthy tail.
On the bowling front, apart from Rory Burns at the top, there are no left-handers for England and India do not have Ravi Ashwin to exploit the rough against the right-handers.
In the last four years six matches have gone to the fourth innings at Lord’s and out of those only two have gone to the fifth day and both have ended as a draw. India would take heart from the fact that since 2017, teams batting fourth have scored 109 runs on an average here, the lowest among all venues in England. The maximum target chased in this time is 107. In fact, the last time a team won a match chasing 150+ target at Lord’s was in 2012 by England against West Indies when they gunned down 191. England scored 183 of those runs on the last day of that match.
STRONG BATTING vs STRONG BOWLING
The current England team have some exceptional second innings players like Dom Sibley, who averages way better in the second innings than first. The in-form Joe Root is the biggest threat. Jos Buttler and Rory Burns also have decent averages in the fourth innings. In reality, England batsmen have been very good in the fourth innings. Their average of 25.9 is the second-best among teams that have batted in five or more matches in Tests since 2018.
On the other hand, England will be facing a strong unit of bowlers. If England have been the second-best batters in the fourth innings, India have been the second-best bowlers in the aforementioned time. Indian bowlers have bagged wickets every 23.4 runs at a strike rate of 49.2. Their runs per wicket ratio is the second-best among teams that have played five-plus matches.
The first Test of this series was also in a similar circumstance where the result could have gone either way. However, for the whole of day five, rain played a spoil sport. Thankfully, there is no prediction of rain in London on Monday. It will remain overcast for most of the time with some spell of sunshine. The only dire situation possible is an early close because of bad light.
But, to make any of it interesting, first India need to avoid a collapse early morning if not for adding runs but for the bowlers to feel good about themselves.