On Day 4 at Lord’s, as India, already trailing by 27, scrapped every inch to restore parity from 55 for 3 to be 155 for 3 through a sterling century partnership from Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara, they must have thought they had done enough to at least raise hopes of a draw.
But their Achilles heel, finger-spin, once again returned to pull them down.
After the pacy Mark Wood produced a brute of a delivery that reared up from the good length spot to dismiss a stoic Pujara, who batted for four hours and forty minutes for his 45 (206b, 4×4), making him glove it to Joe Root at slip, Moeen produced two great deliveries to twist the dagger firmly in India’s hearts.
Ali had troubled Rahane enough throughout his spell either with the delivery that is flat and turning in or with the floater which the Indian vice-captain struggled to read.
Late on Day 4, he produced another floater which Rahane edged to the keeper Jos Buttler. It was the eighth time he had fallen to Moeen in 12 innings. While his half-century 61 (146b, 5×4) will keep his critics at bay for a while, Rahane would be disappointed at the manner and timing of his dismissal, as it was palpable.
Moeen then produced another beauty as Ravindra Jadeja went neither front, nor back and saw his off-stump pegged back.
At 181 for 6, with the skies darkening and England skipper Root calling for the new ball, the umpires offered the Indians the light which Rishabh Pant (14*) and Ishant Sharma (4*) gladly took.
India are ahead by 154 and need at least another 50 runs on Day Five to make a match out of this. As the sun shined on Sunday, India should have batted better in friendly conditions. But some of the dismissals were frustrating.
Thrice this year Rohit Sharma has been out pulling. Once in Australia and twice in two matches here, all at crucial times. He even miscued one off Wood in the first innings which went for six. England had a plan and a field for it and despite conceding a six to feed Sharma’s ego, they knew that it is a small bargain if they get him out playing that shot.
Sharma bailed out of one. However, he couldn’t resist a go at another one and perished caught to Moeen Ali behind square for 21.
If the Sharma dismissal was like a punch to the gut, the dismissal of Indian skipper Virat Kohli a few minutes later, felt like a bullet to the head.
Kohli, who has disturbingly fallen to a similar pattern of nicking balls outside off, looked solid with four crisply struck fours, as he reached 20 off 30 balls. He had also negotiated his nemesis James Anderson well. But it was Sam Curran who got him.
After being ineffective from a defensive round the wicket angle, Root prompted him to try the more attacking and conventional left-arm over line. An in-swinger rapped Kohli on the pads immediately. The lbw appeal was referred by Root and the umpires call of not out was upheld.
Next ball, Curran angled it wide and forced Kohli to jab at it and produced the edge. Kohli had fallen nicking on fifth stump again. In the dressing room, he flung his glove. He knew apart from a dent to India’s chances, another dent had been caused to his aura.