- England were set 399 to win after dismissing India for 255
- Ben Duckett was dismissed for 28 with Zak Crawley and Rehan Ahmed at crease
- Captain Ben Stokes had previously challenged his team to chase higher scores
When England pulled off their record Test run-chase, rattling along to 378 for three in just 76.4 overs to defeat India at the start of the Bazball revolution, Ben Stokes mused he wished he had been set 450 ‘just to see what we could do.’
Well, 18 months later, the England captain almost got his wish here when an England team who insist they can chase anything were set 399 to pull off a second Test victory that would make the Hyderabad heist seem like a walk in the park.
Not only that but victory here, in very different conditions to Edgbaston, would eclipse anything Stokes and Brendon McCullum have achieved against New Zealand, South Africa, India themselves, Pakistan and Australia in a remarkable Test transformation.
After all, England have only successfully chased more than a hundred in India twice before, 208 in 1972 and 127 in 1984, and nobody has ever reached this many to win any Test on the sub-continent. Not even India – their biggest was 387 against England in 2008.
Let us not get carried away even though England reduced their target by 67 for just the late loss of Ben Duckett by the close of the third day.
Ben Stokes’ England side will have to pull off a record run chase if they are to win the second Test in India
England were set a target of 399 to win having chased over 100 only twice in India in history
England closed day three one wicket down for 67 runs, with Ben Duckett dismissed late on
For a start, a certain Joe Root made an unbeaten 142 in that record chase on that extraordinary day in Birmingham but there was uncertainty over his fitness on Sunday when he took a blow on a finger and sat out most of what was a productive third day for England.
Time will tell whether Root will bat on Monday and how England will fare but this has been another good Test for England even if, as all logic suggests they should, India win today or tomorrow and go into the eight-day break before the third Test with the series level.
Yes, it did appear before this game England had a golden opportunity to go 2-0 up with India rattled after that extraordinary first Test win and missing another two key players to add to Virat Kohli in Ravindra Jadeja and KL Rahul.
But even if they are unable to take that chance England will know they have competed well here in the Bay of Bengal and that only a masterclass of reverse swing bowling from Jasprit Bumrah on day two has so far really separated the sides.
Okay, Yashashvi Jaiswal did make a double hundred after India had won a big toss on a flat Visakhapatnam pitch but there was next to no support from an otherwise vulnerable India batting line-up and a score of 396 was only just about par.
There is doubt over the fitness of Joe Root (left), who took a blow to the finger and sat out most of the day
England started the day well with Jimmy Anderson dismissed India captain Rohit Sharma early
England looked like they would at least match it when Crawley was going great guns on Saturday but, once he had fallen to Axar Patel, Bumrah took over with one of the great spells to earn India a first innings lead of 143 that still should be decisive.
England certainly had a really good day in the field on Sunday from the moment Jimmy Anderson bowled Rohit Sharma with a beauty that swung in before moving off the seam to take out off stump.
It was the start of another extraordinary display from Anderson, who followed it by having Jaiswal caught driving to slip to emphasise he has returned to his very best, at 41, after an indifferent Ashes.
The absence of Root hardly helped England but their three novice spinners did everything they could to keep India’s lead in reach, helped again by some poor shots from a surprisingly brittle Indian batting line-up.
If Tom Hartley had sent back Gill on four, as it looked like he had done with just his fourth ball of the day, India would have been 34 for three and England could have already had realistic hopes of pulling off another miracle.
But even though Chris Gaffaney gave Gill lbw replays, perhaps not conclusively, detected the faintest of inside edges to begin a nervy spell that another of India’s young superstars was desperately fortunate to come through.
Shubman Gill scored a gritty century to back up Yashashvi Jaiswal’s knock in the first innings
The India No 3 rode his luck early on but stood firm to put his side in a commanding position
Gill could easily have been sent on his way on the same score to a mighty close lbw shout off Anderson deemed umpire’s call and then edged Hartley between keeper and slip on 17 as he rode his luck before going on to his third Test hundred.
England stuck gamely to their task and pulled off two brilliant catches to keep India in check. First Ben Stokes produced a stunner even by his standards, running back from mid off and diving full length to claim Shreyas Iyer off Hartley, before Rajat Patidar was taken low off an inside edge by the immaculate Ben Foakes.
England were grateful for DRS when technology overturned two bad decisions by Gaffaney, technology showing Gill had gloved an attempted reverse sweep off Shoaib Bashir before the New Zealand umpire inexplicably ruled not out when Patel was struck plumb in front by Hartley.
When India were dismissed for 255 Hartley had added another four wickets to his nine from the first Test – it would have been five had Crawley, deputising at slip against spin for Root, not spilled a simple chance when Ravichandran Ashwin was on four – and Rehan Ahmed three in a highly encouraging return for England’s novice slow bowlers.
Zak Crawley again played well at the top of the order for England in the last few overs of the day, ending unbeaten on 29
Crawley again looked in superlative form, hitting Kuldeep Yadav’s third ball for six on his way to an unbeaten 29, but Duckett fell for 28 to Ashwin, leaving the new ‘Night Hawk’ Ahmed to, madly, slash his way through to the close with 332 more needed for history.
They couldn’t, could they? Surely not? Probably not, actually, but it will be fun finding out.