Buttler, Curran set India up for daunting chase

Jos Buttler led England's fightback with a 69 as the host reached 260 for eight to take a 233-run lead on day three of the fourth Test.

Jos Buttler's 122-ball 69 helped England take 233-run lead at the end of third day's play.   -  AP

A Saturday full of twists and turns came to a close with smiles on Indian faces. Mohammed Shami, who proved his worth as a quick, incisive bowler yet again, removed Adil Rashid off (what became) the last ball of the day, claiming his third wicket in the process. It brought India some relief, but after an absorbing, attritional third day's play at the Ageas Bowl, England will believe it has the upper hand in the fourth Test. That is because of Jos Buttler, who scored a typically busy 69, and Sam Curran -- a player that continues to be a thorn for India. Curran made an unbeaten 37, enabling the home side to reach 260 for eight at stumps, the lead now worth 233. The pitch has slowed down but India will need to dismiss Curran quickly and then bat wisely against Moeen Ali’s off-spin if it is to win this match.

The ball is turning and Moeen Ali will fancy his chances in the second innings; India's batsmen must fight with all their strength if their team is to chase a target in this region. It was the sort of day when the game ebbed and flowed and one side was never on top for very long. The finest of the drama came in the afternoon, either side of lunch. Keaton Jennings and Joe Root had toiled away for over an hour, adding 59 runs for the third wicket, when Shami struck. It was to be the last delivery before lunch, Shami spearing it in from around the wicket to nail Jennings leg-before for 36. There was one ball left in the over, and after the break Jonny Bairstow arrived to face it. He was bowled first ball, the leg-stump doing cartwheels as Shami sprinted away in celebration. It was a poor shot from Bairstow, thrusting his hands forward and leaving a giant gap between bat and pad. Taken off wicket-keeping duty, out for 6 in the first innings and nought in the second -- Bairstow may not rank this Test among his top ten.

Key highlights: Buttler fifty gives England advantage

England had lost two in two balls, and with the lead only 65, India sensed it had forced the door open. Root and Ben Stokes, who appeared determined to block everything that came at them, were prepared, however, to battle. The runs came in a trickle but they did and Root, perhaps for the first time since Edgbaston, looked in some sort of form. He had inched his way to 48 when Stokes pushed the ball into the leg-side and called for an ambitious single. Root was slow off the blocks and Shami, running up from mid-on, hit the stumps at the keeper's end with a fine throw. Virat Kohli was ecstatic.

In Stokes and Buttler, though, England had two able batsmen. Stokes carried on blocking like it was going out of fashion but Buttler, at the other end, played with greater freedom. As India's bowlers tired, he attacked, his ball-striking ability coming to the fore whenever he was offered any chance to cut or drive.

It also did not help India with Ashwin not appearing at his most effective. He bowled a great number of overs but he seemed to be lacking that snap, that spark that makes him so dangerous. He may have been feeling the effects of the tight hip that had troubled him at Trent Bridge; in any case, he did not truly threaten England until he removed Stokes, who was surprised by a ball that turned sharply.

Hardik Pandya, who had not been called upon to bowl for the first 65 overs of the day, did not make a great impact either. Buttler attacked him without trouble until he was finally removed by Ishant with the second new ball. The Delhi seamer, who had been warned twice -- rather harshly -- for running on the danger area in his follow-through, finished the day with figures of two for 36.