Hyderabad: The Indian top-order struggled copiously against debutant England left-arm spinner Tom Hartley on a slow-turner, as the hosts stuttered to 95 for three at tea on the fourth day of the first Test here on Sunday.
KL Rahul (21 batting) and Axar Patel (17 batting) are in the middle during India’s chase of 231 after England piled 420 in their second innings assisted by Ollie Pope’s splendid 196.
India still needs to score 136 runs more for a favourable result from this match.
However, India’s chase started in a solid fashion with skipper Rohit Sharma (39) and his opening partner Yashasvi Jaiswal (15) adding 42 fuss-free runs in 11.4 overs.
Rohit even played a couple of sweeps and reverse sweeps to tackle the England tweakers, but the first hint of trouble came when Jaiswal was snaffled by Hartley (3/31).
After spotting the advancing Jaiswal, the left-arm spinner pulled his length back and the opener could only spoon a simple catch to Pope at silly point.
Two balls later, Hartley gave marching orders to Shubman Gill, who will have to think hard and long about his approach towards Test cricket before the management is forced to look elsewhere.
Hartley tossed the ball up on the off-stump and Gill’s half-hearted prod engaged Pope at silly point again as India suddenly looked in a shaky space.
But a rude shock was awaiting them as Hartley soon won a leg-before appeal against Rohit, whose attempt to play for turn brought disaster.
However, Rahul and Axar, who was promoted to No. 5 ahead of Shreyas Iyer to nullify Hartley, negated the rest of the session.
Earlier, Pope’s incandescent innings helped England set up a tough fourth innings chase for India before getting bowled out at the stroke of lunch.
Pope (196, 278b, 21×4) propped up England, who resumed from 316 for 6, as the Indian bowlers failed to make any impact.
But the lack of a Plan B was evident in the way the Indians bowled, often straying to the pads or drifting way outside the off-stump to give freebies for the Englishmen to feed on.
But Pope was not complaining either as he merrily added to the total as England flew past 400 runs in their second innings.
It was only the second time a team managed to go past that mark in second innings in India since 2012. Alastair Cook’s England did that in Ahmedabad.
Pope was helped in his endeavour by an enterprising Hartley (35) as the pair milked 80 runs off 106 balls.
They executed the pre-set strategy of playing a variety of sweeps to perfection to keep the Indians a befuddled lot.
It required a shooter from Ashwin to snap the stand. Hartley stayed back to play a length ball from the off-spinner but the ball kept low to beat his defence to smash on to the stumps’ base.
From there India managed to eke out a couple of quick wickets, including that of Pope to bring curtains to England’s innings.
Fittingly, Bumrah, best among India’s bowlers, ended his stay with a slower ball that dishevelled the stumps as Pope tried a reverse scoop.
Bumrah also fetched India’s first breakthrough in the morning session, when he had Rehan Ahmed caught behind.
Ahmed, who till then showed admirable self-restraint, chased a wide one from Bumrah to give a regulation catch to KS Bharat behind the stumps.
However, Ahmed had helped Pope to make 64 runs for the seventh wicket that extended England’s lead.