Match Analysis

How England clung on to topple the No. 1 Test team

A day-by-day recap of how Joe Root's team dug deep and India let a golden chance slip away

Sam Curran went to his half-century with a six, England v India, 4th Test, Ageas Bowl, 1st day, August 30, 2018

Sam Curran went to his half-century with a six  •  AFP

On each of the first three days at the Ageas Bowl it appeared India were taking control only for England to find an answer before, on the final day, one ball potentially defined the series
Day One - Why was Curran left out?
England's batting order has resembled a box full of mixed up jigsaw pieces this summer: all fine in themselves but just unable to slot together in a way that forms a coherent picture. Promoting Jonny Bairstow to No. 4 didn't prevent the seemingly inevitable collapse and things looked grim when Mohammed Shami got one to nip back sharply and cannon into Ben Stokes' pad. An unsuccessful review meant England were 86 for 6 and all at sea, much as they were in the first Test where they lost their first 7 wickets for 87. Sam Curran strode to the crease, just as he had done at Edgbaston, and for the second time in the series dragged England out of the mire with a precocious display of fearless batting. By the time his wicket fell Curran and the lower order had added 160 runs to England's total and given them a fighting chance.
Day Two - A rare loose shot from Kohli
England may have staved off calamity in the first innings but with Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara seemingly nailed to the crease and 142 runs on the board those efforts looked as feeble as King Canute trying to hold back the ocean. But, just as it seemed England were about to go under a wave of insurmountable runs, Curran - the man who was dropped from the side, remember? - angled one across Kohli, who reached and jabbed at it - perhaps unnecessarily - with hard hands. Alastair Cook, who has had a few problems in the slips of late, snaffled the catch and Kohli was on his way just short of a half-century and, while Pujara battled on to a magnificent hundred, England were able to prevent India's lead swelling too much.
Day Three - A new side to Ben Stokes
Not satisfied with shuffling the batting order between Tests, England - or, rather, Joe Root - decided to cut the deck between innings, sending Moeen Ali out to bat at first drop. The revamped order was only marginally more successful than in the previous innings: England losing their first four wickets for just 92. Keaton Jennings was pinged on the pads by Shami on the last ball before lunch and, resuming his over after the break, Shami welcomed Bairstow to the crease by pitching the ball up and generating enough reverse swing to send it thundering back into the stumps past a rather extravagant drive. But Stokes (Mark II, Conservative Version) played defensively and with admirable caution and, through partnerships with Root and Jos Buttler, arrested the slide and put England in a position where Curran (yes, him again) could establish a 244-run lead with the tail.
Day Four - Moeen spins a Kohli trap
India had just passed the halfway mark in the chase, Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane steadily chipping away at the lead while England kept up the pressure with Moeen bowling into the rough and fielders breathing down their necks. Moeen, who had taken five wickets in the first innings but had yet to strike in the second, landed one nicely and the ball squirted off Kohli's bat straight to the region of Cook's ankle. Cook, fielding at short leg, just couldn't get his fingers around the ball to claim the catch but he got another chance on the very next delivery when the ball flicked Kohli's glove, then pad, before lobbing straight to him. The crowd, recognising a Very Big Moment, held its collective breath as Kohli called for a review. Perhaps he thought it had come off his forearm. Perhaps it was sheer desperation. Perhaps he couldn't believe that England's second spinner, unwanted all summer, could deny him. No matter. Snicko and Moeen were not to be denied and Kohli was gone. Rahane fought on doggedly but the greatest danger for England was back in the dressing room and victory was only a matter of time and patience and a little Mo magic.

Melinda Farrell is a presenter with ESPNcricinfo