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India vs. England: In praise of the fifth day

Five days gives a quality batsman like Joe Root enough time to effect mid-Test changes in technique AFP

One of the world's premier batsmen was furiously practicing his forward defensives. He lunged as far as he could and leaned over the imaginary ball so his bat could sing a little lullaby. "Go to sleep... go to sleep... go to sleep, little darling. Don't you spin... Don't you spin... Don't you spin off the rough now... And ruddy send me sprawling."

Elsewhere, a bowler capable of waking every last demon in a pitch warmed up with great vigour.

There was activity everywhere. Some seemed nervous, others excited. Visakhapatnam had never hosted a Test before and its people were being spoiled rotten by India, England and the theatre of the fifth day.

They saw a debutant produce the delivery of the match, making it drift in the air to force Ben Stokes to square up and play inside the line. Not even Liam Neeson could have stopped the off stump from being taken. So now Jayant Yadav has a decision to make. He had said dismissing AB de Villiers in a warm-up match last year was the best wicket of his career.

Then Mohammed Shami conjured reverse-swing in the eighth over with the new ball. Neither of these incidents would have happened had the pitch not been so abrasive. It had needed a fifth day to get that way. The fifth day is under threat.

There is merit to the argument that Test cricket needs help. It asks a lot of people who prefer their news in 140 characters and their videos to get to the point in 120 seconds. Besides, there are far more convenient ways to follow the game.

The Andhra Cricket Association allowed free entry on the first day here and while the crowd was impressive it didn't threaten the stadium's capacity. Why would it, when instead of travelling outside the city, getting probed by security, sitting in the sun, and barely getting to see your favourite players, you just touch a button on your phone, get your info and move on with your life. It is hard to imagine making Tests a day lighter would change any of this. A better effort might be to make the pitches more responsive, redress the balance between bat and ball and add context to every match that happens.

Besides, why must we push for something that won't allow for Haseeb Hameed and Alastair Cook's remarkable stonewalling. Something that could lead to a savage pursuit for home advantage and limit the chances for a team to grow. Something that reduces the time available for a narrative shift - like in Visakhapatnam when four days of hard-fought cricket and spirited counters culminated in two and a half hours of spectacular action.

R Ashwin tossed the ball up with cover open for the right-hander to beat his inside edge by miles. Ravindra Jadeja did not care for point as he aimed for the footmarks to generate variable bounce. No reasonable person will grudge this when it happens on the fifth day.

Good batsmen go so far as to enjoy it. Kohli produced a masterful innings in tough conditions. Joe Root combated them by adjusting his technique mid-match, crouching more in his stance and shortening his backlift to be ready for the grubber.

At a time when cricket is under pressure to shed its flab, this series has strengthened the argument to keep it roly-poly.