Ahmedabad: Alastair Cook and Matt Prior orchestrated a remarkable comeback as England erased a huge deficit and gained a lead of 10 runs over India, finishing the fourth day in Ahmedabad on 340 for 5 with hopes of a draw now a possibility.
When Umesh Yadav removed Ian Bell and Samit Patel off successive deliveries in the afternoon, England slipped to 199 for 5 and it seemed India were going to finish the match on Sunday. But Cook and Prior compiled an unbeaten stand of 141 for the sixth wicket and kept the bowlers at bay for rest of the day.
The pair came together after Yadav, working up searing pace and stinging swing, snaped up wickets in consecutive balls in the post-lunch session. Bell, who was working the fast bowlers to the leg side, was first to depart after lunch when he was trapped in front of the wickets by Yadav when looking to flick. Next ball, a fast yorker-length delivery dipped in late and cannoned into Patel's front pad, but replays showed that there was an inside edge. It was Patel's second raw deal in the match after he was given lbw to Yadav in the first innings.
But that was as good as it got for India. Prior was the dominant batsman during that fine partnership and took up the responsibility of scoring runs, beginning with two fours off Yadav in one over. Prior was rock-solid on the back foot while playing the ball late, while against the pacers he preferred to play forward. Having made a defiant 48 in the first innings, Prior reached his 23rd half-century by picking up a couple of runs off Yuvraj Singh in the fourth over after tea.
Cook went about scoring runs serenely and clocked up his 21st Test hundred, third against India and second in India, by clipping Yadav to deep square leg for a couple of runs in the 61st over. Thus, Cook became the first batsman to score hundreds in first three Test matches as a captain, as well as the first England batsman to score five Test centuries in the subcontinent, surpassing Ken Barrington's record of four centuries.
The run rate dipped in the final session as both batsmen batted with utmost discretion and patience. But most importantly, the deficit was erased in the 122nd over. At the close of play, Cook and Prior were batting on 168 and 84 respectively.
Earlier in the day, India hit back on the fourth morning with the wickets of Nick Compton, Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pietersen to reduce England to 182 for 3. Having battled to 34 overnight, Compton failed to cash in on a missed stumping off R Ashwin in the sixth over, and was trapped in front of the wickets by a reverse-swinging delivery from Zaheer Khan that beat him for pace. Trott averted a pair by taking a few boundaries off Pragyan Ojha, but perished for 17 when MS Dhoni gave the left-arm spinner a change of ends. With his first delivery, Ojha got Trott to press forward to a one that turned away and the outside edge was duly taken by Dhoni.
Pietersen became Ojha's victim for the second time in the match when he was bowled off the first ball of his next over. Going for a sweep to a delivery which pitched on leg stump and spun past to hit middle, Pietersen was dismissed for the 25th time in Tests to a slow left-armer.