Kohli keeps India’s hope alive

 India's Virat Kohli after the match. Reuters photo

Indian batting, barring skipper Virat Kohli, came a cropper for a second innings in a row that has left their chances of victory in the opening Test against England hanging in the balance here on Friday.

Opener Murali Vijay fell victim to poor footwork while Shikhar Dhawan and Ajinkya Rahane refused to show the stomach for a fight, playing horrendous shots when the need of the hour was watchfulness, to allow England a chance of going 1-0 up.

Skipper Kohli (43 batting), who struck a masterful century in the first innings, waged a lone battle amidst some exceptional swing bowling and a hostile Edgbaston crowd to take his side to 110/5 at stumps on day three. The talisman, though, needs the rest of the pack to stand by him as he aims to single-handedly swing the wildly fluctuating game India’s way on Saturday morning.

Veteran pacer Ishant Sharma (5/51) and ace off-spinner R Ashwin (3/59) dished out excellent acts with the ball earlier in the day to bowl England out for 180 that left India chasing a tricky but gettable target of 194. The top-order batsmen, though, made a hash of it as England appear slight favourites to extend their amazing record at this ground.

Pacers Stuart Broad and James Anderson, the heroes for England in many wins, were right on the money from the word go, teasing and testing Vijay and Dhawan with a probing line. While Anderson kept moving it both ways, Broad hurried them repeatedly with his pace. Confused on what do — whether to go forward or leave the ball or play at it — Vijay departed with a major moment of indecision. He offered no shot to a Broad in-swinger and was trapped in front for the second time in a row. He thought about a review but Dhawan politely asked him to walk back.

Two overs later Dhawan, rarely looking comfortable against the moving ball, joined Vijay back in the dressing with an atrocious piece of shot-making. Instead of buckling down and negating the early damage, he went for a flashy drive with zero footwork. The ball from Broad took the outside edge, giving wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow a simple catch.

KL Rahul, who perished for a 2-ball four in the first innings, then rebuilt the damage in the company of Kohli but just when he seemed like he had got his eye in, he departed to a beauty from Ben Stokes that squared him up.

Rahane, normally India’s batting mainstay in challenging non-Asian conditions, looked all at sea once again. He hardly looked like the batsmen who has built quite a reputation over the last few years. Poking and prodding at almost everything, he departed playing a nothing shot against left-arm medium pacer Sam Curran.

India promoted Ashwin ahead of the established Dinesh Karthik, hoping the former’s supposed better technique rather than the latter’s fidgety nature will tide through the storm. But the plans came unstuck as Ashwin was removed by Anderson for just 13 runs. England, smelling blood, came out all guns blazing but Kohli and Karthik kept at bay to set-up an exciting finale.

India will rue the counter-attacking innings played by Curran (63, 65b, 9x4, 2x6) that rescued England from a deep hole.

India had the noose tight on them after reducing them to 86/6 at lunch but the 20-year-old southpaw played a scintillating inning to help England wriggle out of it. Now England have India in a spot.

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