Ahmedabad : Captain Alastair Cook led a remarkable England fight-back with a heroic unbeaten 168 as the defiant visitors wiped out India’s mammoth first innings lead with a gritty batting display to raise hopes of saving the first Test on Sunday.
The 27-year-old displayed immense concentration and skill to not only notch up his 21st Test century under pressure, but also keep his team in the game as he steered England to 340 for five at close on the penultimate day.
The England captain found an able ally in Matt Prior (84) as the duo put on an unfinished 141-run partnership to leave the Indians frustrated.
The spinners, who were expected to do the bulk of the damage, found it difficult to get the wickets.
England, who conceded a mammoth 330-run first innings lead and were asked to follow-on, have now taken a lead of 10 runs, setting the stage for an interesting fifth day’s play with all three results possible.
India will look to claim the remaining five wickets as quickly as possible and push for a 1-0 lead in the four-match series.
England, on the other hand, will try to bat as much as possible and may even put pressure on India by taking a substantial lead on a tricky fifth day track.
Resuming at the overnight score of 111 for no loss, England lost the wickets of Nick Compton (37), Jonathan Trott (17), Kevin Pietersen (2), Ian Bell (22) and Samit Patel (0) but it was Cook who stood like a rock to hold the English innings together showing superb endurance.
Cook, who has faced 341 balls and struck 20 fours, was given splendid support by Prior, who was not out on 84 that came off 190 balls and contained 10 fours.
The duo batted resolutely even as Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni constantly shuffled his bowling attack that lacked the bite of the first innings.
India can still come back strongly with a few quick blows on the morning of the final day and press for victory on a track, which is offering slow turn.
But the day belonged entirely to Cook after a couple of quick blows by left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha and wickets off successive balls by pacer Umesh Yadav on either side of lunch. Prior, on the other hand, played the ideal foil to his captain.
It was the sixth 150-plus score by Cook who had scored a century on debut in Nagpur in 2006. His other three-figure effort against India (294) was made at Edgbaston in the last series between the two teams in 2011.
Cook also became the eighth English batsman to score more than one hundred on Indian soil, by joining the ranks of Ken Barrington (3), Andrew Strauss (3), Colin Cowdrey (2), Tony Greig (2), Mike Gatting (2), Ian Botham (2) and Paul Collingwood (2).
Cook’s composure and patience was creditable right through and he hardly played a false shot.
While Ojha was easily the more impressive , Ashwin bowled mostly flat through the air but was also guilty of not maintaining a tight line outside the off.
Ojha ended the day with figures of two for 102 in 44 overs to add to his five for 45 of the first innings while Ashwin, who got three in the first innings, went wicket-less in his 41 overs in which he gave away 104 runs.
Yadav, another successful bowler of the day, had 2 for 60 in 19 overs. Zaheer Khan bowled economically, giving away 38 runs in 18 overs for the wicket of opener Nick Compton in the first session.
Skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni brought on Yuvraj Singh to bowl his first over in the England second innings after 10l overs without success in breaking the sixth wicket partnership.
In the second session, Yadav struck two body blows by getting the ball to reverse swing to trap Ian Bell (22) and Samit Patel (0) leg before wicket off the fifth and sixth balls of his first over of a new spell. The two quick strikes left the tourists reeling at 199 for 5 in the first hour.
Ojha had done similar damage in the first session by dismissing Jonathan Trott (17) and Kevin Pietersen (2) within a space of seven balls spread over two overs to push England on the back foot after Cook and Nick Compton (37) had put on a stand of 123 runs.
Cook, who made 41 in the first essay, and Prior prevented further damage till close to renew the battle on Monday.
Prior edged Ojha once but the catch fell short of a diving Virender Sehwag at slip while Cook’s edge also fell short once off Ashwin. But otherwise they batted without much trouble.
Dhoni took the second new ball in the 83rd over when England were 219 for 5 just before the end of the first hour in which the visitors added 42 runs in 14 over for the loss Bell and Patel.
Earlier, in the first session, tight bowling by Zaheer and Ojha kept them down to 71 runs from 31 overs for the loss of Compton, Trott and Pietersen.