Sam Curran salvaged England after their top order failed again on the first day of the fourth Test against India in Southampton.
Some fine India bowling coupled with woeful England batting left the hosts 86-6 after they won the toss.
But 20-year-old Curran, recalled to play only his fourth Test, made a spirited 78 to drag them to 246.
He shared stands of 81 with the returning Moeen Ali, who battled to 40, and 63 with Stuart Broad.
Curran was the last man to be dismissed, leaving India to survive four overs and close on 19-0, 227 behind.
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Although the tourists are in the stronger position, England would have been in much deeper trouble had it not been for efforts of Curran, who kept them afloat on a day when the ball moved throughout.
Despite England not being at their best with the new ball, England still have a chance of fighting back into the contest if their bowlers can find similar assistance to that enjoyed by India.
England, who lead 2-1, will seal the five-match series with victory on the south coast.
Curran shines once more
Even though he is still new to international cricket, Curran is no stranger to rescuing England. His 63 in the second innings of the 31-run win in the first Test dragged them from 87-7 and helped earn him the man-of-the-match award.
Still, he was left out of the third Test at Trent Bridge in favour of Chris Woakes and Ben Stokes, the latter after he been cleared of affray.
Restored to the team in Southampton because of an injury to Woakes, Curran played an innings full of the qualities that have characterised his short career: determination, sound judgement and no little flair.
With England struggling, Curran demonstrated the confidence and solidity lacked by some of his team-mates, rebuilding with Moeen, who himself showed patience in his first Test since March.
Initially strong square of the wicket, Curran opened his shoulders after Moeen fell, delighting the crowd by fetching off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin over mid-wicket for six and hitting the pace bowlers down the ground.
Only the danger of running out of partners made his batting more agricultural and by the time he was bowled by Ashwin, he was England’s second-highest run-scorer of the series.
England top order folds again
That England have a lead in this series is little to do with their top order – since the first innings of the first Test, where they slipped from 216-3 to 287 all out, they have found themselves 87-7, 89-4, 161 all out, 62-4 and now 86-6.
Joe Root’s decision to bat first on pitch that had its grass removed seemed a sound one, but his batsmen once again floundered.
Keaton Jennings was lbw in bizarre fashion, befuddled into playing no shot to a Jasprit Bumrah inswinger that would have hit middle and leg.
Root was lbw playing across an Ishant Sharma inswinger while Jonny Bairstow, promoted to number four despite a broken finger, poked at Bumrah to be caught behind.
Alastair Cook played nicely before guiding Hardik Pandya to Virat Kohli, while Jos Buttler played a loose drive to also be caught at third slip off Mohammed Shami.
Ben Stokes played with organisation and a straight bat until he was lbw by one that Shami nipped back.
Even Moeen, who showed restraint, undid his good work with a wild sweep that resulted in a top edge off Ashwin.
India impress before fading late
India outplayed England in the third Test at Trent Bridge and rewarded their successful team by fielding an unchanged XI for the first time in 46 matches.
For long periods, they picked up where they left off last week, carrying a consistent threat with the ball and catching well to take the chances England offered.
Their four fast bowlers once again bowled with pace, pushing the ball to a full length to take advantage of the movement on offer.
Only when Curran reversed the momentum did India wilt slightly. Pandya was expensive and Ashwin at times ineffective.
In addition, England’s cause was helped by 23 byes as wicketkeeper Rishabh Pant struggled behind the stumps.
However, dismissing England for such a modest total gave the tourists the upper hand and a potentially tricky period for openers KL Rahul and Shikhar Dhawan was made easier by England’s width.
‘India should have bowled England out for 150’
England’s Sam Curran: “A lot of the batsmen got some very good balls. It’s a team game so we worry about the end result, and we managed to get 246, which from 86-6 looks a decent score.
“It’s a massive positive for us going into tomorrow with a bit of momentum.”
Former England captain Michael Vaughan on BBC Test Match Special: “Every single day of this series has had some fascinating periods. You feel there is going to be wickets tumbling and then you get a partnership from nowhere.
“The way Curran and Moeen played, India started to chase it. They got frustrated and a bit ragged in the field, so Virat will feel they lost intensity. They should have bowled England out for 150.”
Ex-England spinner Phil Tufnell on TMS: “Early wickets are the key for England in the morning. The pitch will still be doing a little and it is set up for a great Test match.”
More extras than runs for Jennings – the stats
- England’s 36-4 is their second lowest score when they have lost their fourth wicket at home against India, the other one being 34 in 1936 at Lord’s.
- Alastair Cook has faced more than 26,000 balls now in Test cricket and batted for more than 608 hours.
- There have been more extras for England (113) in this series than Keaton Jennings has scored runs (94)
- Ishant Sharma now has 251 wickets – and 51 against England. He is the seventh India bowler to reach 250 and only the third seamer.
- Ravichandran Ashwin has never bowled a no-ball. He has bowled more overs in Test cricket without bowling a no-ball than anyone else, going past Graeme Swann, who bowled 2,500 overs.
Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/cricket/45362523