It was that sort of a day. The play was set in one motion - runs and runs for those who batted, no matter if they are specialist at the job or not. The bowlers, the pacers in particular, were deemed ineffective by the track. Yet, so much happened. The contest flung both ways and we now have a beautifully set up fifth fay of the Test, with all three results possible.
England ended the day at 77 for no loss, needing another 291 runs to reach a daunting target of 368 after India had piled up 466 in their second innings, with Rishabh Pant and Shardul Thakur sharing a stand of exactly 100. The pitch remains a belter to bat on.
The England openers, both of whom missed out in the first innings, applied themselves to remain unseparated by the end of the day’s play. Rory Burns fought it out to reach 31 off 109 balls. Haseeb Hameed, on the other end, has 43 to his name from 85 deliveries.
Even new ball spells from Jasprit Bumrah and Umesh Yadav could not extract enough from the track. However, they bowled in good channels, allowing only 24 runs off their 13 overs combined. Ravindra Jadeja went for only 28 runs in his 13 overs and Shardul Thakur did not bowl, Mohammad Siraj went for 24 runs in his six-over spell towards the end of the day’s play. This pulled the deficit below 300, rendering it anybody’s game on Day 5.
Earlier, India’s lower-order - number seven onwards - smashed a tired England pace attack all around the park to swell India’s lead to 367. The runs came after Moeen Ali snapped the Indian skipper, Virat Kohli half an hour before lunch. It was a position of adversity, with India only 213 runs ahead, but Shardul Thakur created into an opportunity to amass his second fifty of the Test match. Rishabh Pant also blossomed, playing the ball on its merit rather than slogging his way out of trouble, and scored his second fifty of the match. Both first saw through to lunch adding 17 runs in seven overs between Kohli’s dismissal and the session break. Post lunch, they focussed on building their innings. Thakur, however, soon unfurled his natural flair going for his strokes. The pitch became absolute road and the stand between number seven and number eight soon became a thorn in the flesh of England’s one dimensional pace attack. It flustered England to a point that could not convert a run out when Pant almost ended up at the non-striker’s end with Thakur.
Thakur pumped James Anderosn through long-off, tonked Ollie Robinson for a maximum and drove Chris Woakes handsomely over cover-point for four. He eventually reached his fifty off 65 balls. Pant played in his own bubble, scoring 50. The two put on 100 runs for the seventh wicket off 155 balls. With all his bowlers thwarted, Joe Root brought himself on and struck in his first over with an outside edge off Thakur’s bat. Pant soon followed the suit, offering a return catch to Moeen. He had done his job but with the scope for a bigger score, he walked back dejected.
The damage, however, didn’t end there for England. Yadav and Bumrah piled on their misery, adding another fifty runs to India’s lead. Bumrah was special. He played the late-cut, an off-drive to Woakes and slogged Moeen over the cow corner for four. Yadav joined the party as the two embarrassed the England attack, adding 36 off 51 balls. India eventually finished with 466 on board, their highest total in England since the 2011 tour. Woakes was the pick of England’s bowlers today, picking three wickets. After an effective burst by Anderson and Robinson to start the day, Woakes sent Jadeja packing in his first over. Two overs later, he had Ajinkya Rahane plumb in front of stumps. Rahane, probably, was the only batsman today who failed to get going on the best batting day of the series.
Like England, Indian seamers also couldn’t extract much from the road-like surface. Jadeja did got a few to turn and jump occasionally out of the rough but largely struggled to hit the right spot on the pitch. As India struggled to break England’s opening stand, the cameras regularly panned towards Ravichandran Ashwin sitting in front of the dressing room in solitude. On the Oval’s Day 5 surface and a number of lefties in England’s batting order, he would have definitely made a difference. But currently, the Test match hangs in balance.