Kohli teases but luckless, Pujara makes his own luck to tighten India’s grip on the match

There were signs of vintage Virat Kohli. He nodded off his 40-ball 20 with a magisterial cover-drive off Stuart Broad, before he check-drove him and off-drove James Anderson. Those strokes heightened the expectations, but like in the first innings, struck a stroke of misfortune.

Just as he seemed to allay his chief tormentor, Anderson, came Stokes. These days, he isn’t as good a deceptive bowler he used to be but still has the sparks that make him a bowler to be not ignored. And he produced one such moment of brilliance. Nothing that Stokes had thrown up carried any harm. But this one burst from good length, straightened, kissed Kohli’s gloves and veered towards the keeper. Even Sam Billings was not anticipating the ball to kick up so deviously that he ended up dropping the catch. But Joe Root was aware enough to grab the rebound. Another day, Root might not have been this aware, or Billings would have cushioned the ball to an unguarded corner of the field. But Kohli was not enjoying the proverbial career-restoring luck. The wait for the 71st century now seems an eternal wait.

Strangely, extra bounce accounted for two of three Indian batsmen to depart on Sunday. Before Kohli, bounce turned out to be the kryptonite for opener Shubman Gill. The young batsman has an array of eye pleasing punches on the up, but he has a tendency to stab from the crease at short-of-length balls outside off. A productive stroke in the subcontinent, but the extra bounce and just enough seam movement makes it a self-destructive stroke in England. What made the stroke look worse was that he had perished in identical fashion in the first innings.

So Vihari ended up facing the fourth ball of the innings. He was sturdier in defence than he was in the first innings, though still confused about leaving the ball close to the off-stump, the line Anderson was preying on. He repelled 43 balls, not so much with conviction as with determination. But he could not resist the temptation to drive the 44th ball, which he edged to third slip, his front-foot stride far from the pitch of the ball.

Thus England found enough openings to keep them in the game, but would have been happier had they ejected Cheteshwar Pujara, who hung on for two hours with a battered finger and survived some anxious moments for an undefeated 50 off 139 balls. None as close as the second lbw review from Stokes, where he was saved by the umpire’s judgement. He shouldered arms to an in-ducker that the replays, upon referral, showed it was a bail-trimmer and thus umpire’s call. Stokes had reviewed an earlier incident, but the ball was missing the stumps on height. Billings had dropped him too, when on 27, but the edge off Matthew Potts was dipping away from him, and hence a difficult grab.

But Pujara survived, as he does best, and helped India stretch the lead to 257 runs. It was not just plain survival, as he promptly punished loose balls. A back-foot punched four off Stuart Broad was the most authoritative of the lot, and one that he plays only when in fine nick. He then steered Potts between slips and gully, before guiding Stokes through point. Rest of the knock—a mini resurrection of form—was all about nudges, deflections, pushes, sweat and labour. But he held fort, in the breezy company of Rishabh Pant, who motored along to 30 off 46 balls with a clutch of fours, tightening India’s grip on the match.

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