Two days of thrills and spills gave way to a war of attrition here at the Oval as Rohit Sharma’s brilliance and Rory Burns’ benevolence saw India take control of the fourth Test.
Sharma had been on just six in Friday’s evening session when Burns failed to react to an edge at third slip off the bowling of Jimmy Anderson.
And he was let off the hook again early yesterday with the Surrey captain failing to clasp a difficult low catch to his right despite getting a hand to it from Ollie Robinson's delivery.
Sharma had made his way to doggedly but stylishly to 31 by that point and he then crawled on past 50.
But from thereon in he opened his shoulders and raced to three figures with some sumptuous shots to swing the pendulum India’s way.
Sharma’s second half-century, brought up with a thumping six straight down the ground, took just 59 balls.
And he was looking set fair for a monster total before a lapse in concentration saw him try to pull a Robinson delivery that wasn’t there for pulling to dolly up a thick edge that Chris Woakes, running in from the backward square-leg boundary, took comfortably.
It was the first delivery with the second new ball and Sharma will have kicked himself for giving away his wicket in such fashion.
But it was a fine knock nonetheless, a proper opener’s innings that gave India a real platform.
England had toiled hard in the field and captain Joe Root will have been wondering when the breakthrough would arrive after Sharma and Cheteshwar Pujara’s second-wicket partnership moved into three figures.
Once it came, however, there was soon more joy for England with Pujara falling just five balls later after an inside edge from Robinson diverted the ball on to the batsman’s rear thigh guard and up it looped for Moeen Ali.
Suddenly, there was hope for Root and Co.
But the anticipation more wickets would tumble soon dissipated as Virat Kohli and Ravindra Jadeja took the heat out of the situation with India 270-3 — a lead of 171 — when bad light brought a halt to play a little more than 15 minutes early.
England’s assistant coach Paul Collingwood said: “We were very disciplined. We have accurate bowlers in our ranks, we stuck to our task all day.
“The one thing that was surprising was the lack of swing we got from the Duke’s ball — we tried everything but couldn’t get it moving.
“We asked questions all day and you have to give the India batsmen credit.
“Sharma has played beautifully and we all know Test cricket can be tough at times.”
While both of Burns’ chances were tough — arguably very tough — England have now dropped six catches in this match.
Collingwood added: “It’s certainly been an area we’re trying to improve all the time.
“I saw some stats that said the Oval is one of the harder grounds to take chances and I’ll put that down to the view.
“But we need to be ready for the chances coming and we’ve tried to reinforce that.
“Rory’s today was a very good effort, the way he propelled himself towards it, and the one on Friday he didn’t see — it’s hard to catch a ball you can’t see.”
KL Rahul, Sharma’s opening partner, had moved from 22 overnight to 46 before Jimmy Anderson had him caught behind by Jonny Bairstow on a contentious review.
Pujara said: “My partnership with Rohit was important but credit goes to the openers, they gave us a good start.
“The way KL and Rohit are batting, it gives a lot of confidence to the players who are coming in.
“Rohit has been batting well throughout the series, he has got a couple of fifties, and it was time he converted those fifties into a big one and today was the day.”
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