There was a certain predictability to the morning session -- after all, this is India batting at home.
The England seamers came out looking to attack and get early wickets -- and Sachin Tendulkar in particular countered with attacking strokeplay, taking advantage of the attacking field placements to pick the gaps in a series of hooks, pulls and on-drives.
Rahul Dravid, who like his partner seemed more willing to look for runs, however fell early, after adding 8 runs (12 balls faced) to his overnight 78. The delivery from Ormond swung in appreciably and Dravid, shaping to flick from off and middle to leg, fell over a touch, playing around the line and getting it on the pad. It was one of those 50-50 decisions, which umpire Venkatraghavan gave in favour of the bowler (290/4).
Sourav Ganguly came in to the predictable short-pitched barrage. Here in India, however, you really have to pitch it short, almost in the bowler's half of the deck, to get it up and that gives Ganguly enough time to reverse that initial front foot movement and get a measure of control into his shots.
An interesting facet of the morning play was Nasser Hussain's field setting. For both Tendulkar and Ganguly, he got his bowlers to bowl one side of the wicket, then packed that side with fielders placed to cut off the best shots. The field against Ganguly was particularly interesting -- two slips, two gullies, then point pushed back a good 45, 50 yards from the bat to block the slashing square drives, a short cover to make the batsman think a bit before driving, an orthodox cover and mid off.
Against this, both batsmen choked back, with Tendulkar at one point in the second hour of play going a good 23 balls without scoring.
India extended its lead to 100 during the session, with the fifth wicket partnership getting to the 50 mark off 98 deliveries.
The last over of the session saw county mates Andrew Flintoff and Ganguly mix it up in a big way. A Flintoff bouncer had Ganguly hooking streakily, getting four to third man off the edge. The annoyed bowler exchanged a word or two with the batsman, then produced another short ball -- so predictable, in fact, that Ganguly stayed back waiting and blasted it emphatically through midwicket. More short stuff followed, with Flintoff putting all he had into the last ball before lunch and producing a blinder that actually kicked off length and had the Indian captain fending desperately.
The bowler followed up with some heated words -- and Steve Bucknor underlined the difference between being a good umpire and a bad one when he stepped in immediately, spoke to the bowler and told him to cool down, drawing the apology from Flintoff.
In terms of scoring, the session was the most productive for India thus far, 91 runs coming off 24 overs (England with its seam bias in the morning bowling a few under par) at 3.79 (as against the overall innings run rate of 2.8). India went in 115 ahead, with Tendulkar (77 off 120) adding 46 (off 67 deliveries) to his overnight 31. Ganguly went in with a healthy 36 not out off 65 -- and alarms notwithstanding, seemed to be working hard to get back to form.
At lunch, India were 353/4 in 125 overs.
The script called for Tendulkar and Ganguly to settle back down, then accelerate in a bid to bat England out of the game -- only, they forgot to give copies of the script to those two gentlemen.
Tendulkar started the session in irritable mood, thanks to constant movement behind the bowler's arm. That irritability translated into some very edgy pushes outside off, and Mathew Hoggard, who bowled a particularly sharp spell after lunch, took toll. The ball was on off, Tendulkar played for a bit of reverse and stayed inside the line, the ball seamed away instead and just enough to feather the edge through to the keeper. Tendulkar, whose batting average against England is around 81, went for 88 (144 balls, 108 dot balls) with India on 370/5, 132 ahead on the first innings. The partnership had produced 80 runs at a healthy 3.18.
Shortly afterwards, Ganguly didn't so much walk back to the pavilion as kick himself all the way back to it, after throwing away a great chance to break his drought of big runs in Tests. He had by then done the hard work, weathering a stormy spell by Flintoff and a few post-lunch high-kickers from Hoggard. The ball that finally got him was pitched short, but it was well wide of off and rose very slowly. Ganguly (47 off 95) threw himself into a cut, reaching a long way and managing to get only the toe of the bat on it -- point, placed back for the shot, took it without moving a muscle (378/6).
VVS Laxman, who started off with a fluent flick for a brace off the first ball he faced, settled down into some circumspect batting. Sanjay Bangar, originally slated to open, came out with a hamstring injury and a runner in Shiv Sundar Das, and alternated some good shots with some chancy ones -- one such saw him driving at Dawson's off break without getting to the pitch, only for Graham Thorpe at cover to spill a simple head high chance with the batsman, at the time, on 8.
At tea, Laxman had 19 off 55 and Bangar 24 off 78 in a team score of 419/6, giving India a lead of 181.
The session, which should by the book have seen India push the scoring rate, actually witnessed a dramatic dip thanks to the two big wickets going down, producing just 66 runs at 2.13 in 31 overs.
VVS Laxman for the third innings in a row went to a catch square of the wicket. Unlike in South Africa, where he got out cutting climbing deliveries straight to point, this time he threw it away to the off spinner, going round the wicket to the right hander to create an angle. The ball that did for Laxman (28 off 67) was flat and straight, Laxman leaned back to slap it through point, and managed only to hit it off the toe of the bat to the backward point fielder (India 430/7). One of these days, Laxman will do a count of all the times he has gotten into the twenties and thirties and thrown it away, and be suitably grateful for the patience of the team management and the selectors -- or so one hopes.
Local lad Harbhajan Singh walked out to the kind of roar that should by rights have heralded a Tendulkar or a Viv Richards. The roar intensified when he swept the off spinner for a single to get off the mark. And the silence of death descended when the off spinner, facing his England counterpart, got in a horrible tangle trying to swing a full length ball around, played all over it, and got it on the back leg in front of middle stump to give Dawson another reward for some hard toil (436/8, India leading by 198).
Bangar, having missed out with the ball and been lucky to survive a dropped chance early, made the most of his chance with the bat to prove a point. However, another straight delivery from Dawson saw Bangar attempt to heave from outside off to leg, only to top edge a skier for the bowler himself to hold (449/9 India, 211 ahead, Bangar 36/110).
Siddiqui and Yohannan, tail-enders both, seem to believe in getting on with things. The former in particular has decent technique for a number 10, and hits the ball with a flourish -- a pick-up drive over long off for six off a Dawson armball, and a classical pull off Hoggard for four an over later being the pick of a little cameo that helped stretch the lead just that bit further. Hoggard however got his revenge later in the same over, with a delivery that Siddiqui (24 off 28) chopped onto his stumps while attempting a shot that started out as a cut and ended up as a short-arm pull.
The Indian innings ended on 469 (169 overs, overall run rate of 2.78) -- a lead of 231 runs, with exactly 200 overs left in the match, including 20 on the day.
With runs to bowl at, both Yohannan and Siddiqui worked up a fair head of steam, the former going at around the 136k mark while Siddique is a yard or three slower. Both, more to the point, bowled the full length and Mark Butcher -- who despite his stunning 173 earlier this year at Headingley against the Aussies seems a bit low on confidence, struggled. Besides the bowling, the knowledge of the daunting lead appeared to have forced the England openers onto the defensive.
Nine overs of seam was merely the prelude to the introduction of spin, Anil Kumble getting first honours, with Butcher ringed by three round the bat. Harbhajan Singh -- to a gladiatorial roar from his adoring home crowd -- took the ball an over later, going round the wicket immediately to the left-hander. And the pattern for the rest of play in this innings was pretty much set right there.
Both left-handers batted with extreme caution through the 10 overs of spin on offer. Various factors that could impact on play on day four began to get visible -- firstly, increasing turn and, just occasionally, variable bounce. Secondly, a propensity on the part of both batsmen to push at the ball, leading to bat-pads that, thus far, have gone to ground out of reach of the close cordon but which kept the two spinners interested throughout. And finally, a certain excitability in the appealing as the spinners pressed hard -- which makes you glad that the two umpires on duty, Venkat and Bucknor, are cool hands who've been there, done that, many times before.
At close, England had kept the bowling at bay for 20 overs, surviving several close calls to total 34/0, still trailing India by 197.
England's tour of India : Complete coverage