England face an almost impossible challenge when they resume day four on 67 for one, still requiring 332 more runs to win the second Test match against India at Vizag, but this is a team that likes a challenge.
The tourists’ task was made that much more difficult when Ben Duckett was out for 28 just before the close of play, with fourth-innings chases notoriously difficult on the subcontinent, and especially in India.
While Yashasvi Jaiswal’s stunning double century spearheaded India’s first innings, it was Shubman Gill’s 104 in the second that helped them establish control of the game. England will likely have to produce something equal to the feat of the two Indian centurions to come close to taking a 2-0 series lead.
Under Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum, England have harnessed a never-say-die attitude and developed a team that likes to chase down targets, including reaching 378 for three to beat India at Edgbaston in 2022, but achieving something similar at Vizag will not be straightforward.
England’s highest fourth-innings successful run chase in India was back in 1972, when they chased 207 runs to win, a far cry from what is required of Stokes’ side.
The highest final innings chase in India was by the hosts in 2008 against England, they reached 387 for four, but the highest by a touring side was by the West Indies in 1987 and 2011 when they chased 276 to win.
James Anderson, who claimed five wickets in the match, said after the close of play on the third day: “We feel well in the game. We got sat down by the coach last night and he said ‘If India get 600 ahead we’re going to try and chase it down’ and that’s exactly what we’re going to do.
“I think we stuck at our task really well today, they put in a partnership at one point and I think the way the spinners kept going and kept toiling was brilliant and now we’re in a great position and we’re going to give it a great crack tomorrow.”
However, the established duo of Zak Crawley and Duckett started in a typical positive fashion, despite the signs of early variable bounce. In one over from Jasprit Bumrah, one ball kept low and almost dived under the bat while the next reared up, but the opening duo still managed to keep the scoreboard ticking over.
It was a cautious start, England knocked off just one run in their first over of the chase against Bumrah.
But Duckett was more free-flowing against the other bowlers, getting off the mark with a sliced punch outside the off stump for four, and following it up with another boundary the next ball.
It looked to have become a case of weathering the storm against Bumrah, while employing their favoured attacking cricket against the other bowlers. Crawley tried to do that against Kuldeep Yadav, including hitting the spinner for six.
England had reached 50 without loss when a ball from Ravichandran Ashwin came off the bat onto the pad and ballooned up into the air with the wicketkeeper able to run forward and take the catch.
Rehan Ahmed came out as the nightwatchman or preferred “nighthawk” position and saw England through to the close, still needing 332 runs to win.
India, who were the recipients of England’s highest successful run chase in 2022, have not counted out their opponents, with even Gill saying at the end of play: “We are pretty much in the game, I think it is about 70-30 at the moment.”
England have a mammoth task ahead of them on day four, and potentially into day five, with cracks appearing and widening on the pitch, but they will be buoyed by having chased down high totals previously, albeit not in India.