CHENNAI, India — India needs another 381 runs for an unlikely victory against England after reaching 39-1 at stumps on day four of the first test Feb 8.
England opted to back its bowlers to finish India off in 90 overs on the final day, after deciding against buying extra time in the game with an earlier declaration.
England captain Joe Root decided not to intervene in his side’s second innings, allowing them to bat into the final hour and pile up a lead of 419 - setting up what would be a world record chase - in a bid to take an unlikely India win out of the equation.
Jack Leach’s dismissal of Rohit Sharma gave the tourists a further shot in the arm and nine further breakthroughs are needed in the final three sessions to cap what would be a memorable away success.
Earlier, Root declined to enforce the follow-on despite dismissing the hosts for 337, a deficit of 241 runs, preferring to give his bowlers a rest and stretch the advantage.
He went on to top-score with 40 as his side were bowled out for 178 but his apparent conservatism was always likely to cause some debate. It doubtless loomed large in his mind that the record chase in India came against England at this ground.
In 2008, Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s men scored 387 for the loss of only four wickets, while Virat Kohli’s side are just a couple of weeks on from their audacious pursuit against Australia at The Gabba.
India had started the day on 257 for six, with Washington Sundar and Ashwin turning an already frustrating stand of 32 from the previous evening into a substantial one worth 80.
It took the introduction of Leach to end their stand, with the left-armer making a breakthrough despite unimpressive figures of nought for 100 to dismiss both Ashwin and Shahbaz Nadeem. Washington had batted well for 85 not out but ran out of partners.
James Anderson wrapped things up, bouncing out Ishant Sharma before Ben Stokes held a difficult catch at slip to remove Jasprit Bumrah.
Despite easily clearing the 200-run threshold, Root was never likely to send India back in to bat, preferring to let his bowlers have a break from the heat.
That meant Rory Burns and Dom Sibley faced the thankless prospect of two overs before lunch, a slim window of opportunity that Ashwin accepted. He clipped Burns’ outside edge with the first ball of the innings and wheeled away in joy as Cheteshwar Pujara held on at slip.
There was no shortage of incentives to score quickly but the reality was harder, with Dan Lawrence and Sibley restricted to 34 between them in 84 balls. Ashwin set Sibley up nicely, drawing him forward outside off stump and drawing an inside edge that pinged to leg-slip.
Lawrence lasted for another 20 minutes before Ishant had him lbw, in the process becoming just the third Indian seamer to claim 300 test wickets. But the arrival of Root heralded an instant shift in tone.
Twice in his first four balls he stooped to sweep Nadeem for four and Ashwin was soon treated with similar disdain. When the latter adjusted his line, Root simply swapped his hands and reverse swept yet another boundary.
By now there were two matches unfolding simultaneously, with Root dominating one and India making good headway in the other. Even the arrival of Stokes could not alter that, one muscular blow for four his only real intervention before he nicked Ashwin out of the rough to make it 71 for four.
Root’s one-man mission to speed things along ended with a slice of reverse swing and an lbw for Bumrah, who had been held back until the 22nd over but quickly made his presence felt.
The question of the declaration loomed over the rest of the innings, with Ollie Pope and Jos Buttler stretching the lead to 360 at tea.
Pope started the final session by reverse sweeping ambitiously out of the rough, a tactic that soon got the better of him as he picked out midwicket.
With all eyes on the balcony, Root opted to not intervene as Buttler was stumped for 24 and Ashwin mopped up the tail to finish with six for 61.
Despite their position of dominance, there was now some pressure on England to make inroads with the new ball.
Rohit is not the kind of opener built to dig deep and defend and he played to type here, pulling Archer for four and six successively before exiting for an inconsequential 12.
Root’s decision to use Leach first up instead of Anderson paid dividends when he sent a delivery past the outside edge and into the top of off stump.