India v England, 4th Test, Nagpur, 3rd day December 15, 2012

Summit in sight but Bresnan running out of puff

England will probably need to bat four sessions to secure a series win but their cause has not been helped by Tim Bresnan's continued poor form

Although England fought back in the final hour in Nagpur to take four India wickets and regain some control of a Test they need only draw to ensure a series win, their bowling attack, not for the first time recently, appeared to be a man short during the 198-run association between MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli.

Tim Bresnan, England's second seamer, endured a chastening day. Perhaps it is harsh to judge a man by his performance on such a track - this remains a desperately poor Test wicket - but it was hard to avoid the conclusion that Bresnan no longer looks like an effective performer at this level. It was not just that he lacked pace - that is not a huge issue on this surface - but that he drifted on to the batsmen's legs or pitched short noticeably more often than any of his colleagues.

Thirteen months ago, Bresnan looked to be at the start of a long international career after producing valuable performances in the Ashes and against India. England won the first 13 Tests in which he played and, at that stage, he possessed a Test bowling average of 25.46 and a Test batting average of 40.22.

But an an elbow injury necessitated surgery in December 2011 and, despite his best efforts, he has been unable to recover that bit of nip that made him such a valuable member of the side. Since his return he averages 55.43 with the ball and, since the start of the series with South Africa, that rises to an eye-watering 210 runs per wicket. Perhaps due to diminishing confidence, his batting has also fallen away and, in 2012, he is averaging just 17.14.

It is hard to understand what he did between Ahmedabad and Nagpur that justified his recall. While Steven Finn and Stuart Broad are absent with injuries, Graham Onions, in particular, must wonder why he was brought on the tour. There were also other options with the England Performance Programme - Stuart Meaker, in particular - who could easily have been called up. There is a great deal of affection and respect towards Bresnan in the England camp but it is becoming hard to ignore his dip in form.

Bresnan may still have a role to play with the bat in this game. While India did not start the day in a great position, Virat Kohli and MS Dohni played the hand they were dealt perfectly. The fact that both demonstrated the discipline to reign in their natural, aggressive game was testament to their dedication and maturity and while Dhoni may be disappointed not to reach his century, his sadness should be more than assuaged by the knowledge that he has revived his side's chances of squaring the series.

If England do hold on, or even win, it may prove once again that their superior fitness and fielding made the difference. Alastair Cook's direct hit to run-out Dhoni was another example of the difference between the sides: England have now conjured three crucial run-outs in India's last three innings.

Ultimately England will probably have to bat for four sessions to ensure they win the series. It should not prove beyond them on this pitch. But it should not have proved beyond them to save the Test at The Oval on a flat track or win the Test at Abu Dhabi when chasing a small total. Remember the wobble in Kolkata, too.

One thing is certain, though: when they set off for this tour almost two months ago, they would have jumped at the chance to bat four sessions to win the series. They are in sight of the summit, but have one last, tough climb ahead.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo