Dhoni and Kohli battle back
Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Virat Kohli defied England’s bowlers for almost the entire third day, only for a late fightback to leave the fourth and final Test fascinatingly poised.
The tourists, 2-1 up in the series, resumed very much in the ascendancy having reduced India to 87 for four by stumps yesterday in response to a first-innings total of 330.
Yet for two and a half sessions, England were unable to break through as Dhoni and Kohli batted with extreme caution and skill in a quite sensational 198-run partnership.
The latter deservedly reached three figures before being trapped lbw by Graeme Swann for 103, but Dhoni was denied a century in cruel fashion.
After debutant Ravindra Jadeja had been pinned in front by a James Anderson in-dipper, all eyes turned to Dhoni’s efforts to reach the milestone.
Having looked nervous in the nineties, it appeared he had got there in the penultimate over when taking a single to mid-off. Yet opposite number Alastair Cook had other ideas, delivering a direct hit to leave Dhoni agonisingly short of his ground.
He departed - much to the dismay of most in attendance - for 99, and Swann then found some turn to bowl Piyush Chawla and bring an enthralling day to an end with India 297 for eight, 33 runs behind.
Despite England’s late charge, the day was still memorable for a remarkable riposte - led by Dhoni, who maybe for the first time was facing extreme pressure from an Indian public seemingly growing disenchanted with one of their favourite sons.
Someone who has thrived under pressure throughout his illustrious tenure, he was once more up for the battle today, curbing natural attacking instincts to repel, and for long periods frustrate, a touring attack led by Anderson.
Yet this was no lone vigil from a captain desperate to back up his impassioned vow to be a true leader following India’s loss at Kolkata, for Dhoni was blessed with a partner similarly ready for the fight.
Many have marvelled at the precocious Kohli over the last two years. He is as stylish a batsman as this scribe can remember watching, one who often makes playing against world-class bowlers look like facing mates in the park.
Today’s effort crucially showed he has the mental fortitude to marry with that abundance of talent.
Kohli headed into this encounter under the microscope; just 85 runs over the first three Tests was not what was expected of a batsman that, heading into the series, had seemingly found a formula in the Test arena having initially thrived in one-day international cricket.
He arrived at the crease yesterday with India wobbling at 64 for three, and then watched Gautam Gambhir depart. By the end of his knock, he had spent 358 minutes at the crease, facing 295 deliveries. Dhoni’s numbers - 397 minutes and 246 balls - were similar.
That two players who are famous for thriving in the modern generation of Twenty20 cricket had such low strike-rates represented a pleasant throwback.
Similar performances are expected from the likes of Cook, who seemingly favours such a situation. Not so much from this pair, who delivered a reminder that talented players can adapt - even on a surface that may well have even tested the patience of Geoffrey Boycott.
It would be remiss to suggest there were no moments of style; Dhoni prospered with a series of powerful cuts, while Kohli drove and deflected with elegance, the day’s best stroke - a sumptuous back-foot whip off Monty Panesar - took him to 84.
But there were no helicopter shots, Dhoni’s trademark. Just orthodox drives, cuts, pulls and, more often than not, front- and back-foot defensive strokes.
Fittingly, it was old-fashioned cricket that dragged India back into a Test series that is now set up perfectly with two days remaining.
11:12am - CLOSE - WICKET! Chawla b Swann 1; India 297/8 - Swann finishes an excellent day by bowling Piyush Chawla with a delivery that turns and beats the edge. What a sensational finish, with England still leading by 33. Tomorrow should be exciting, join me then!
11:04am - WICKET! Dhoni run out 99; India 295/7 - My, oh my. What drama here! In the penultimate over, Dhoni sets off for a single - when on 99 - and Alastair Cook produces the direct hit from mid-off. The skipper’s bat was so close to being over the line, but wasn’t! He has got to trudge off for 99! England are delighted, but it’s a bit of a shame; he deserved a century.
10:40am - WICKET! Jadeja lbw Anderson 8; India 288/6 - Well, that was not missing. Anderson, bowling round the wicket, again brings the ball back into Jadeja, who is trapped plumb in front. A great time to take a wicket, that.
10:35am - Extremely close shout now as Anderson, who appeared to have picked up an injury earlier in the over, raps Jadeja on the pad. A loud appeal is denied by umpire Kumar Dharmasena. Excellent decision too; the ball struck the left-hander just outside the line of off stump.
10:29am - We may be in for an early finish today. The lights are on and it appears to be extremely gloomy. Dhoni seems comfortable with the possibility of heading off despite being 96 not out. He has been batting all day, I suppose.
10:25am - Debutant Ravindra Jadeja enjoys some early fortune as he slashes Bresnan to third man for four. Some nerves are understandable given how long he’s had to wait for his maiden innings!
10:07am - WICKET! Kohli lbw Swann 103; India 269/5 - Well, it's been a long time coming, but England finally have their first breakthrough of the day. Immediately after the drinks break - how many times has that happened in this Test? - Swann traps Kohli plumb in front with a delivery from round the wicket that turned.
9:53am - HUNDRED! Kohli (290b 12x4 0x6) - Kohli cuts Graeme Swann through the covers to herald a quite sensational century. It's been a pleasure to watch such a talented player knuckle down on a tricky surface. Exceptional.
9:40am - India's dominance today has proved too much for one England fan, who is shown with a pie hat covering his face as he looks to the heavens. I say looks, I can only assume his eyes are covered underneath said hat...
9:23am - As has been the case at the start of the previous two sessions, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Virat Kohli are just bedding in again now. Impressive concentration.
9:04am - James Anderson is given the ball as we begin the evening session; how England could use a spell similar to the one he delivered yesterday. Such an effort does not looking in the offing immediately as his opening over - a maiden - is easily dealt with.
8:40am - TEA - India 227/4; Dhoni 75, Kohli 77 - Panesar is the latest England bowler to cause problems, beating Kohli’s edge with a fantastic delivery that narrowly misses off stump. The batsman responds in the next over by crunching Anderson through cover off the back foot before Dhoni plays out a maiden off Panesar prior to tea. Another fine session for the hosts.
8:26am - Just some signs of life to encourage England. After Dhoni almost offers a return catch to Bresnan, he is rapped on the pad again; umpire Tucker shook his head with the ball once more missing leg.
8:17am - Well, that’s the first sign of a breakthrough England have had in a while. Bresnan nips one back into Dhoni and hits the pad, but the ball was missing leg stump. Good decision by Rod Tucker to turn down the lbw appeal.
8:05am - India are stepping on the accelerator now, epitomised by Dhoni charging down the pitch and lofting Swann over midwicket for six. Excellent shot.
7:56am - I am afraid there is little to tell you. Dhoni and Kohli continue to bat with seemingly consummate ease at the moment.
7:39am - Sensational shot from Kohli, who leans into a cover drive off Tim Bresnan. Even with the new ball, England are struggling to put any substantial pressure on these two now.
7:26am - CENTURY PARTNERSHIP & FIFTY! Dhoni (137b 7x4 0x6) - This has been quite a stand and it reaches three figures with a swivel-pulled single from Dhoni, who then brings up his half-century with a cut for four.
7:11am - Well, Anderson has got the cherry doing a little now. Dhoni is beaten all ends up by a delivery that swings in, nips away and bounces before repeating the trick later in the over.
7:08am - James Anderson is into the attack and the new ball is taken. Dhoni slaps the first delivery of the over through the off side for four.
7:03am - Cracking shot from Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who swings Swann over midwicket for four. The new ball is available, but England are not taking it for now. Monty Panesar has the old one in his hand.
6:53am - FIFTY! Kohli (171b 4x4 0x6) - Virat Kohli, who had been out of form prior to today, reaches an impressive half-century via a gorgeous driven four wide of mid-off.
6:45am - Graeme Swann gets the afternoon session under way with an over that yields one run. I cannot help but feel England are just waiting for the new ball now.
6:04am - LUNCH - India 146/4; Kohli 46, Dhoni 31 - Good period for India as Kohli and Dhoni see it out, Joe Root sending down the session's final set of six. Yet they remain a long way behind England, who have kept the run-rate in check. Meanwhile, the new ball is due in just seven overs.
5:38am - England are still seeking a breakthrough that has thus far proved elusive this morning. Swann goes round the wicket and is cut by Dhoni for four before Bresnan comes back and sends down an unthreatening set of six. Time for another burst from Jimmy?
5:21am - Kohli is looking considerably more positive now and finds the point boundary with a cut from Panesar, whose 23 overs had cost just 30 runs prior to this set of six. This pitch is starting to turn more and more; I cannot help but feel it’s essential for India to get to - and maybe beyond - England’s total of 330.
5:13am - Kohli appears to think he’s about to play a game of American football given the amount of body armour he has on. Maybe Dhoni should tell him the ball is unlikely to bounce above chest height on this surface…
5:11am - Good stuff after the restart from Swann, who finds Kohli’s inside and outside edges with successive deliveries. Panesar then follows up his spin twin’s fine work; after Kohli drives just in front of short cover, he is beaten by a delivery that turns. The drive may not be the best option against spin on this pitch.
5:01am - And India have made it through to drinks unscathed, with Dhoni the latest to find the fence via a powerful cut from Graeme Swann’s long-hop.
4:46am - Gorgeous shot from Kohli, who leans into a wonderfully-timed cover drive off Tim Bresnan. India need a few more of those.
4:33am - These two are content to defend at the moment as England put the squeeze on impressively. Good work from the tourists, who are still a long way ahead and aware scoring is not easy on this surface.
4:13am - Monty Panesar is on at the other end, but Anderson continues to pose the biggest threat and lures Dhoni into an edge that flies through the slip region for four.
4:04am - Unsurprisingly, Alastair Cook opts to give James Anderson the first over, and he immediately finds some reverse-swing. Mahendra Singh Dhoni squirts one away off the inside edge before Virat Kohli misses a beauty that swings in and seams away. Cracking stuff.
3:54am - James Anderson was the star of yesterday’s bowling performance, claiming the wickets of Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar and Gautam Gambhir. He and his colleagues will be on the prowl for more early scalps when the action gets under way in six minutes.
3:43am - England, 2-1 up in the series, are very much in the ascendancy now having reduced India to 87 for four in response to a first-innings total of 330.
3:30am - Hello and welcome to ecb.co.uk's live coverage of the crucial fourth and final Test between India and England at Nagpur.