CHENNAI: The forecast is clear as an intriguing Day 5 awaits on Monday at The Oval with the fourth Test wonderfully poised on a pitch where all four results are possible. To put things in context, India have set a target of 368, nine more than England's highest-ever successful run chase. No team has chased more than 263 to win a Test at the Oval. However, this pitch still remains conducive for batting with no inconsistent bounce to worry about. The only threat is it is starting to take turn and much depends on how Ravindra Jadeja, the spinner, can make use of those rough marks.
While India would definitely believe they won't lose the Test from here, they would also be wary of the fact that should batsmen get their eye in, there are plenty of runs there for the taking. And England showed how good it is, finishing Day 4 at 77/0 with another 291 runs required off 90 overs on Day 5.
Since Day 3, bowlers have struggled to get wickets with the old ball with batsmen easily playing on the backfoot, putting full trust on the bounce. The target of 368 undoubtedly gives India an edge, and they once again had to thank the lower middle-order for bailing them out after the middle-order once again fell short on Sunday.
Resuming at 270-3 and a lead of 171 runs, another batting collapse from the middle-order would have opened the door for England to go 2-1 up in the five-match Test series with one to play. And as has been the case on the tour so far, the middle-order continued to give anxious moments with Jadeja and Ajinkya Rahane perishing with just 26 runs added to the overnight score, leaving captain Virat Kohli with Rishabh Pant and Shardul Thakur. While the former played a couple of authoritative cover-drives, his stay ended for 44 when Moeen Ali drew his outside edge before lunch, leaving the responsibility to Pant and Thakur to get them to a big total.
The dominant display put up by Thakur, who scored his second fifty of the match, showed the middle-order had once again missed an opportunity to bat England out of the Test. With more than enough time remaining in the Test, India not just needed runs as they surely need enough time to dismiss England and the seventh-wicket partnership of 100 runs, did precisely that. Apart from taking the team to a safe total with Umesh Yadav and Jasprit Bumrah playing cameos, the lower-order ensured they got the runs quickly. While Thakur played a stroke-filled innings of 60 off 72 deliveries, Pant was patient enough to grind out an even 50.
Presented with perfect batting conditions, had the middle-order prolonged their stay and few more runs, it would have allowed Pant to tee-off. Instead, when he came out to bat when India were just 197 ahead, meaning he curbed his attacking play till India got to a point of safety. With no swing on offer, England's attack looked toothless in the second session as boundaries flowed off loose deliveries, which were far too many as the hosts sent down 148.2 overs in the second innings, the highest a visiting team has faced in England since 2012.
Although India have failed to get a wicket off the new ball in the second innings, should they make some inroads with the old ball, they have the chance to bowl to England's lower order with the second new ball.
In India do manage to win, it will be the first time that an Indian side will have won two Tests in a series in England since 1986.