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England stumble as defeat looms

The Report by David Hopps
July 20, 2014 « Sharman shines ahead of Commonwealth Games | Rashid's burst takes Yorkshire top »

England 319 and 105 for 4 need another 214 runs to beat India 295 and 342 (Vijay 95, Jadeja 68, Bhuvneshwar 52)
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Ishant Sharma struck two big blows to dent England's chase © Getty Images
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Fifteen overseas Tests, and more than three years, have elapsed since India last won a Test outside their own country, but they will barely be able to curb their excitement that the run is about to end. England, without a win in their last nine Tests, look as vulnerable as a family of hedgehogs crossing a motorway: four down, their captain dismissed once more, still 214 short of their victory target.

From the moment that Ravindra Jadeja implanted India's authority with a half-century of unbridled passion, England's new era looked as troubled as ever. If there was one contented Englishman in the ground it was Mick Hunt. After the horrors of Trent Bridge, the groundsman has produced a surface to abet enthralling cricket.

England will pray there is a final twist but only the great West Indies side of 1984, who famously reached 344 for 1, have ever successfully chased a fourth-innings total at Lord's of such magnitude.

Cook's latest stressful contribution brought 22, 93 deliveries met with utmost suspicion, before he pushed hesitantly at a ball of decent line from Ishant Sharma and edged behind. His captaincy is under scrutiny, his runs have dried up and his senior players are not delivering. Andy Flower's warning - "Things will get worse before they get better" - keeps springing to mind.

It took some time before England's second innings began to subside, assisted a little perhaps by some captaincy by Dhoni that was not as much funky as psychedelic. There were too many early bowling changes to quite comprehend, the sight of sharp, leaping turn persuaded him to major, prematurely perhaps, on Jadeja's slow left-arm which Cook met calmly (the fact that Dhoni stood back to Jadeja was particularly idiosyncratic), and finally he settled on the sort of persistent, full-length seam bowling that has put India on the verge of winning the Test. The spinners could still have the final word for all that.

Sam Robson did fall to spin - a marginal lbw decision for Jadeja before tea - but it was pace which caused three England wickets to fall for two runs in 19 balls. Gary Ballance shuffled to 27 before poking Mohammed Shami to the keeper, Ian Bell was bowled by a low one from Ishant Sharma (there again, he does seem to receive rather a lot which makes you wonder) and then Cook's introspective innings ended, replaced no doubt by introspection behind closed doors. Moeen Ali needed a slice of luck or two to survive with Joe Root until the close.

For much of this England disarray, Jadeja deserved the credit. Ever since India laid charges against James Anderson for an alleged kerfuffle with Jadeja during the Trent Bridge Test, he has become the bete noire in a resentful England dressing room. He responded with a hustling innings of 68 from 57 balls, a first Test fifty by a batsman in his 10th Test, encouraged not just by his continued ire about the Anderson incident but an instinctive recognition that, in his case, attack is assuredly the best form of defence.

He charged the fast bowlers from the outset, a high-risk strategy which succeeded in making England's pace bowlers draw back their lengths to a culpable degree, needed a change of helmet when Anderson struck him flush on the grille, and a bandaged finger when Liam Plunkett interrupted one foray by rapping him on the finger. England dropped him once - Ian Bell failing to hold a sharp chance off Ben Stokes at midwicket when he was 67 - but by then it felt too late.

Jadeja's mood was encapsulated by a ferocious front-foot pull against Stuart Broad before lunch which rattled into the midwicket boards. On a rare occasion after lunch that Anderson did bowl one in his half, the result was a fulsome lofted straight drive. He might have been accelerating India's innings in the closing phases of a one-day international.

India, four down overnight with a precarious lead of 145, luxuriated in adding a further 173 in 40.1 overs. The eighth-wicket stand between Jadeja and Bhuvneshwar Kumar brought India 99 in 17 overs. Sixty-five of those came in the first eight overs after lunch with the second new ball still hard and shiny.

Cook's faith in his two senior bowlers, Anderson and Stuart Broad, went unrewarded as Anderson in particular repeatedly resorted to the short stuff after lunch. Plunkett adopted a similar tactic from around the wicket - by then things were so desperate such a ploy seemed understandable - without avail before Stokes finally broke through.

Stokes defeated Jadeja's on-the-charge pull, Cook taking a skied catch running back from slip, but the memory remained implanted of Jadeja's bat twirling celebration after he had reached his 50, a circus master's display which England observed in stony-faced silence.

Anderson's sledging has been virtually non-existent in this Test - he and Jadeja face ICC disciplinary charges on Tuesday - but when Jadeja survived an lbw appeal on 28, courtesy of a thin inside edge, the Burnley Lip could not resist a curt sentence or two. Perhaps they can chat again on Tuesday, in the formality of an ICC enquiry.

After Jadeja's departure, India's innings folded. Moeen had Mohammed Shami caught at the wicket for nought and Bhuvneshwar was last out, edging to second slip, but not before he had completed another half-century in a productive series. Joe Root might have caught him at fourth slip, on 2, but he was standing so close a fast chance blew through his hands.

Until Jadeja threw their calculations into disarray, England were initially congratulating themselves on a productive morning. The second Test was making eyes at them. M Vijay's resistance ended on 95 - the third over with the second new ball - when he pushed at Anderson and edged to the keeper, a rare error of judgment in an innings spanning more than six hours.

India had 17 overs at start of play until the second new ball and, in making 58, lost Dhoni and Stuart Binny along the way. Dhoni scraped 19 from 86 balls, his slowest Test innings of any substance, before Plunkett exposed his uncertainty outside off stump and Bell held a fast, shoulder-high catch at second slip.

A brief recourse to Moeen's off spin accounted for Binny, out for nought, attempting to launch Moeen down the ground but falling to an excellent running catch, over his shoulder, from Cook at mid-off. The captain could claim double credit for bringing him on and holding the catch. With India's lead only 179 and six wickets down, it felt like a turning point. At the close, it felt like a turning point no longer.

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

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