An unbeaten 92 from Joe Root helped England build a 237-run lead on the second day of the fifth Test at The Oval, as the hosts progressed to 385-7, despite a middle-order wobble.
Alastair Cook and Gary Ballance moved the side along nicely in the opening session, before India removed both left-handers, as well as Ian Bell and Moeen Ali in quick succession, to reduce Peter Moores’ men from 191-1 to 229-5.
But a late charge from Root - accompanied by Jos Buttler and Chris Jordan - extended England’s lead past 200, as they look to avoid having to bat for a second time in this match.
With only a draw required to win the series, the home side look in a strong position to be victorious in their first Test series since the Ashes of 2013.
England started day two on 62/0, trailing India by 86, and looking to establish a first innings lead. But the early dismissal of Sam Robson (37) hampered the home side’s early attempts to surpass their opponents’ score.
The ever-consistent Gary Ballance once again came to his country’s aid, putting on an important partnership with Cook for the second wicket.
Resilient second-wicket stand
The two left-handers guided the hosts towards India’s total of 148 with some fluid strokeplay. It wasn’t long before the captain was celebrating his 38th Test half century courtesy of a cut off the bowling of Ravichandran Ashwin.
Ballance was scoring at close to a run-a-ball in the morning sessions, as the deficit was broken down. At lunch, England were 148-1 - with the scores tied, the challenge was to extend a lead that could eliminate the possibility of England batting a second time.
It wasn’t long before the Zimbabwean-born batsman was lifting his bat in accordance with the achievement of yet another 50. England were moving along solidly, but Cook received a reprieve when he was dropped by Murali Vijay off the bowling of Varun Aaron when on 65.
Loss of quick wickets
Despite some dismal Indian fielding, that same combination provided the eventual downfall of the England skipper when he was dismissed for 79. It was a refreshing performance from Cook - who continued his return to form - but he was outdone by a full-pitched Aaron delivery, which he edged straight to Vijay at first slip.
The breaking of that partnership provided India with a view towards England’s middle order, and Ballance (64) wasn’t far behind his captain on his way back to the pavilion.
England’s number three prodded at a tame Ashwin delivery which fell straight into the welcoming hands of Cheteshwar Pujara at silly point.
India were in the ascenency, and the fall of Ian Bell (7) an over later would have put them in higher spirits. The Warwickshire batsman nicked one to MS Dhoni off the bowling of Ishant Sharma.
The fall of two wickets in as many overs left England on 204-4, still looking to build a first innings lead.
Moeen Ali (14) then played on to his stumps to resoundingly hand the afternoon session to the Indians.
However, Jos Buttler once again showed his credentials as a lower-order batsman who can light up an innings and entertain the crowd. The Lancashire wicketkeeper hit nine fours in his 45, which contributed to an 80-run partnership with Root.
Buttler and Root gradually added to England’s lead in the evening session, seeing off the new ball simultaneously.
But the gloveman couldn’t achieve another half-century as he was undone by a shorter Sharma delivery. Just as he did in his last appearance at Lord’s, the tall seamer enticed Buttler into picking out a catcher at short mid-wicket.
Chris Woakes soon followed Ali back to the pavilion. The Warwickshire seamer trundled back to the dressing room following a third-ball duck, a nick down the leg-side was well held by Dhoni.
England were now 318-7, with a lead of 170, but - importantly - still had Joe Root at the crease. The Yorkshireman soon brought up his own half-century, and received good support from Chris Jordan.
The Sussex seamer ended the day on 19 not out as England moved to 385-7, whilst Root was able to progress onto 92* and requires just eight more tomorrow to record his fifth Test century.
With the first innings lead currently at 237, Root will start day three on strike, looking to provide his side with an unassailable lead.
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