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England focus on showing they have India's number

Hosts need 119 to square series and close out a duel that now has India as the ones doubting

Ever since Ben Stokes won the toss and chose to bowl first on Thursday morning, England had been waiting for The Number.
This England team don't care for story arc, developing narrative, all the bits that set things up. The centuries from Rishabh Pant and Ravindra Jadeja. James Anderson's five-wicket haul. Jasprit Bumrah giving Stuart Broad Yuvraj Singh flashbacks. The sole riposte of note from Jonny Bairstow. Virat Kohli's "anyone can get it" attitude remaining undimmed, perhaps even heightened without the captaincy. Cheteshwar Pujara's third-innings Pujara. Never mind all that - just get to the final act.
Let's see the bit where they all fight Thanos. What happens to the informant with the limp? Show us what's in the box. Tell us what The Number is. At around 1:40pm on Monday, they had it.
378 to win the match. 378 to square the series. 378 to close out a duel that began last year when India looked like wiping the floor with one of the most dismal England batting cards in recent memory. But this one, featuring many of those same faces, were only focused on The Number.
People talk about judging a chase, pacing a chase, breaking the back of a chase, owning a chase. But chasing is pretty simple. One more than them - that's about it. And for an England men's team who have overcomplicated Test cricket for so long - even when they were good at it - it has been vital for Brendon McCullum and Stokes to remove anxiety and fear of failure from those who were wearing it all so poorly. Forget the stuff about technique, innings composition and the fact this will be an all-time record chase. There's the hare shooting around the track - go get it. "Before the Test, we had a joke that we'd have a chase," revealed opener Alex Lees. After three successful ones in a row, everyone else was thinking the same.
It has helped that the associated difficulties of a fourth innings haven't really applied here. The surfaces this summer, at Lord's, Trent Bridge, Headingley and here in Birmingham, have not deteriorated as expected. Similarly the minds, usually tired at this point, are relatively fresh considering they've not worried about the situation of the game until this afternoon. This, though, felt like a step too far for our empty-headed dreamers. Then just 21 overs in, it wasn't.
By then, Lees and Zak Crawley had put on 107. Not only had they set a new standard for England's fastest century opening stands (19.5 overs), they had brought up 50 inside 10 overs for the first time since November 2012, when Alastair Cook and Nick Compton knocked off a modest total of 57.
Lees, batting average of 24, charged Jadeja's first ball of the innings, then played his fifth ever reverse sweep of a 12-year first-class career, both of which went for four. Crawley, whose summer average dipped to 13.7 after his first effort in this match, struck seven boundaries, many of them crisp Crawley-esque drives, to post a highest score of 46 this season.
If two batters were to walk in baggage, it was these two. And yet they took on Bumrah et al - and won - despite objectively being in their own individual turmoils, Crawley especially. Because in this situation, there was no need to obsess about averages or even technique. No need to look back - just forward to 378.
It was from the completion of the 21st over to the first of the 25th that the simple thinking was being ruined. Three wickets were lost for the addition of two runs, two in the five balls after tea, the most devastating of which was Lees (56) being run out, ultimately, by Joe Root. The trigger was a ball change that moved more and later than the old one.
Bumrah and Mohammed Shami rotated from the Pavillion End, restricting width, while Jadeja tied up matters from the Birmingham End. And as England were forced to reassess, they looked in danger of coming to the realisations that many other fourth-innings sides fail to ignore. This is supposed to be tough. Bumrah and Shami are quicker and more relentless than Trent Boult and Tim Southee. Jadeja far more equipped to tie down and threaten than Michael Bracewell and his fourth-innings average of 169.
You can't just engineer length off those quicks, and you certainly can't simply clear the front leg and swing from the hip to sharp, turning left-arm spin. Just as England looked like they might rejoin the real world with a crash, Root decided to take a few risks, with a few laps and regulation sweeps, unperturbed after botching a few reverse sweeps earlier. Bairstow, having played possum - albeit an unconvincing one given his century 24 hours ago - took the silencer off his bottom hand to let that little bit extra go into every shot. And just like that, England had the blinkers back on.
The thing to note is the stand of 150 between the two from 193 deliveries wasn't all big hits, even if Bairstow indulged us with a pulled six off Siraj before the close. For a long period, it was mostly ones and twos, as the Yorkshiremen tipped and ran, dabbed and charged.
Bumrah did not know where to put his fielders. The slips were close - too close for Hanuma Vihari to hold onto a sharp chance off Bairstow on 14 - but mid on and mid off were pushed back, along with boundary riders who spent most of their time running in to gather the ball. Like the myth of the boiling frog, they weren't being rattled, just shaken gradually until they walked off well and truly shook.
By stumps, with England 259 for 3, Bairstow (72 not out) and Root (76) walked off to rest their heads and come again on Tuesday in front of a 21,000 reduced capacity who took up the full offer of free tickets from Edgbaston in just 90 minutes.
The only difference to the approach is that The Number has now changed. 119 to get. 119 to square the series. 119 to close out a duel that now has India as the ones doubting. And once more on day five, England will only be focused on The Number.

Vithushan Ehantharajah is a sportswriter for ESPNcricinfo