They ended it with the same distant and forlorn hope. But with two days left and England nearly 200 ahead, it was now a draw they hoped for, so they could go to Nagpur with the series still level.
Before the series began, not too many of the Indians would have expected this to be their objective halfway through the third Test. But their pre-series expectations had been based on the assumption that the English batsmen would struggle for survival against their spinners.
Till Friday, the Indians could have told themselves that this assumption still partly made sense. Alastair Cook, Nick Compton, Kevin Pietersen and Matt Prior had passed the test. The rest still hadnít. Jonathan Trott, starting the day on 21, had scored 0, 17 and 0 in the first two Tests, and had been out once to R Ashwin and twice to Pragyan Ojha.
Cautious, Solid start
Ashwin began the day with a maiden. One run came off his next three overs. In this period, he had had two LBW appeals turned down, one each against Trott and Cook, both batsmen struck outside the line. Ojha had come on from the other end and given away two runs in two overs. A few weeks ago, they may have imagined they would turn the screws on the England batsmen just like this, right through the series.
But the ball Trott and Cook were patting away cautiously, over after over, was more than 80 overs old. In the 88th over, Trott drove Ashwin to the long off boundary. England were 246 for one. They had scored 30 runs in 15 overs.
They had seen off the first hour. In a neat reversal of the old adage, the new ball now came on. In Zaheer Khanís first over, Cook clipped him through mid on for four to bring up his 150. In the next over, Trott cracked Ishant Sharma forward of point for four. In the next over, Trott picked up successive fours off his pads off Zaheer, and brought up his 50.
Three overs later, Ishant got one to stop on Cook. He scooped it back, gently, waist-high. Ishantís hands grabbed greedily at this rare offering. Plop. Down it went. Dropped on 17; dropped on 156. Would the Indians ever dismiss this man?
After his seamers had had gone for 36 in 10 new-ball overs, MS Dhoni brought back spin from both ends. Ashwin and Ojha bowled through till lunch, giving away 14 runs in seven overs.
When play resumed, both batsmen edged Ashwin for boundaries. They decided to put some pressure back on the off spinner. Trott reverse-swept him for four and took England into the lead. In his next over, Cook stepped down the track and lifted him straight over his head for six, for the second time in his innings.
Ojha soon got a flighted ball to turn big on Trott, and had him caught behind for 87. Kevin Pietersen walked in. Ojha nearly bowled him with one that didnít turn as expected. At the other end, Zaheer replaced Yuvraj ó the first part-timer MS Dhoni brought on in 121 overs, in a predictable ploy against Pietersen ó and Cook departed immediately, bizarrely, moving his bat out of the way, while out of the crease, to evade Virat Kohliís flat, stumps-bound throw.
Ojha bowled unchanged throughout the post-lunch session and carried on after tea as well. Till Pietersen hit him for a straight six in his last over before the break, his spell read 16-5-15-1. A superb mini-comeback, after a forgettable outing on Thursday.
In the first over after tea, Pietersen hit Ojha for three successive fours, spoiling his figures some more. Ishant removed Ian Bell in the next over, caught behind off the inside edge.
England had almost reached 400 now. Samit Patel seemed to have a mandate to up the rate. He cut Ojha stylishly, lifted Ashwin for a one-bounce four over midwicket, lifting his back foot behind him, in a manner reminiscent of the man at the other end.
Ashwin soon trapped that man, Pietersen, who unwisely chose to sweep a straight ball. That brought in Matt Prior, who soon slapped him for a brilliant reverse-hit four. Patel smacked Ojha for successive boundaries but fell in the same over, edging a big-spinning long-hop to slip.
Close of play was approaching, but Prior and Graeme Swann didnít let it inhibit their strokeplay, and put on an unbroken 56 in 13 overs. During their late charge, England had targeted Ashwin in particular; his last 10 overs went for 50. A day that had begun promisingly for Ashwin in the end reverted to his series template Ė one wicket and 115 runs in 29 overs, at nearly four runs an over. Ojha, who has leapfrogged him into the lead spinnerís role, had figures of 31-6-75-2 for the day, at an economy rate of 2.42.
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