coco-amo

Stuff that matters

In a series characterised by wildly swinging fortunes England were left clinging to the possibility of one more sudden shift after a difficult day at the Oval in which Rohit Sharma and Cheteshwar Pujara put together a potentially decisive partnership of 153 and by stumps India were on 270-3 and luxuriating in a lead of 171. “We’ve seen throughout this Test series that momentum’s shifted very quickly and if we can get movement on this ball tomorrow we know we’ve got the bowlers to exploit the conditions and put them under a lot of pressure,” said Paul Collingwood, England’s assistant coach. “Hopefully we can get it swinging and bowl them out as cheaply as possible. But the conditions look really good out there for batting so we shouldn’t be scared of whatever total they get.”

The conditions certainly suited Sharma, whose 127 was his first Test century on foreign soil, albeit a ninth in England in all formats, and he now averages 58.48 in 16 matches since his move to opener at the end of 2019. “Overseas hundreds were never in my mind, what I was focusing on was the process,” he said the India batter. “I know the runs will come if I follow the process. Sometimes things don’t come easy, you need to put in those hard yards, and I’m pretty happy today with the way things turned out. Not just for me but for the whole group – we’re in a good position but we understand that game is not over until it’s over.”

After he was twice dropped by Rory Burns in the slips before he reached 35 England struggled to discomfit Sharma until they got their hands on the second new ball, which the 34-year-old promptly top-edged to Chris Woakes at deep leg. “He’s got a very good technique and he’s played really well so far in this series,” said Collingwood. “What we’ve found in the past is he’s quite an attacking batsman but he seems to have reined himself in during the series and been very watchful. It was hard to create chances against him when we weren’t getting a lot of movement with the ball.”

Those two drops were part of a run of missed chances in a cordon that has been reshuffled because of Jos Buttler’s absence, which has forced Jonny Bairstow to keep wicket. “The Oval is one of the harder grounds to take chances at,” Collingwood said. “Like everything else confidence in fielding is important. It’s about trying to keep calm and take our chances. We catch a lot of balls in practice and a lot of hard work goes into it, the guys just have to feel confident enough when they go out in the middle.”

England would have woken up this morning hoping for thick cloud and swiftly illuminated floodlights, but despite those wishes being emphatically fulfilled they toiled with little reward. “The lack of swing we got from the Dukes ball today was surprising,” said Collingwood. “With the seamers we do have we all know once they get movement in the air on a wicket with good carry we can cause India some problems. We tried everything with it, but we just couldn’t get it moving.”