Late strike gives England some hope

England players celebrate the wicket of Indian batsman Amit Mishra

England players celebrate the wicket of Indian batsman Amit Mishra

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England’s labours were rewarded with two late wickets in four balls after India centurions Cheteshwar Pujara and Murali Vijay shut them out for almost the duration of day three in the first Test.

It was hard to fault England’s manful efforts on a steadfastly benign surface, Pujara (124) booking in on his home ground and the stoic Vijay (126) staying put for even longer either side of their stand of 209 which helped India to 319 for four in reply to 537.

After Stuart Broad’s instant breakthrough provided a false dawn in Rajkot, with the first ball of his second spell in his 100th Test, almost throughout this was the manifestation of what England surely feared - that taking 20 wickets for victory would be a mighty task.

Yet in the dying moments of an exhausting day, spinners Adil Rashid and then Zafar Ansari took a precious scalp each - first Murali and then nightwatchman Amit Mishra for a second-ball duck, both caught by Haseeb Hameed at short leg.

Pujara had earlier passed his century to the delight of his partisan following here with 15 fours from 169 balls.

Vijay hit three sixes but only eight fours on his way to three figures and took an extra two hours - a little more than six in all - to do so.

He gave England one opportunity, on 66 when Hameed dived to his left at cover but failed to hold a mistimed drive at Broad - while Pujara’s hundred was chanceless.

It was all a far cry from England’s transient optimism when Gautam Gambhir - who had few problems the previous evening alongside Vijay and safely negotiated the first over of the day from Moeen Ali - got himself in an unfeasible tangle against Broad from the first ball of the second over.

The left-hander thrust his pad into line and his bat nowhere as a delivery from round the wicket hit him bang in front. Sensibly, there was no review.

Pujara then quickly got the better of Moeen.

He made one flighted ball into a full toss with quick footwork, his expert placement beating the leg-side field for four; then the off-spinner dropped short and was cut for a second boundary in the over.

Alastair Cook brought Ansari on instead, and Vijay deposited the left-armer’s second ball over long-on for his first of two sixes off him.

Chris Woakes replaced Broad, and tested Pujara with the short ball - hitting him twice on the helmet and once on the shoulder.

Three counts maybe, but India’s consummate number three was far from out.

England have been pinning their hopes on an accelerated deterioration of this pitch, for their spinners especially.

But there was precious little sign of it.

Cook deployed some inventive fields for Broad’s afternoon spell, and gave Rashid eight overs too, but the wicket would not come for either.

The reintroduction of Ansari brought an initial lbw verdict against Pujara as he played outside one that hit the back leg when he had 86. But India had reason to be thankful for DRS, adopted by them in this match for the first time, when Pujara called for a review which demonstrated the ball would have bounced over the stumps.

England’s reward for collective discipline in adversity was only 66 runs between lunch and tea.

India were not shredding a still significant deficit - but without wickets, England’s victory hopes were gradually eroding.

A second one finally came, to Ben Stokes’ first ball of a new spell, Pujara smashing himself on the pad in disgust as he walked off after a cutting too fine and straight to Cook for a sharp catch at a wide and solitary slip.

Broad and Stokes then summoned the stamina to keep Virat Kohli on nought for 10 deliveries and on one for a further six - a privation tactic which has worked against him before but not on this occasion.

Instead, though, there were two other late prizes for England.

Rashid ended Vijay’s eight-hour vigil at last with a googly which found an inside edge and was well caught by Hameed at short leg, where the same fielder struck again at the other end as Ansari saw off Mishra with what proved the final ball of the day