Southampton: Sam Curran once again waged a lone battle against an inspired Indian bowling attack to pull England out of trouble on the opening day of the fourth Test at Southampton on Thursday.
England’s innings folded up at competitive 246 all out. India in reply were 19 for no loss after getting through the final four overs of the day unscathed, but will rue not taking fuller control of a match they need to win to level the five-match series at 2-2.
England was 86-6 at one stage at Southampton, but Curran and Moeen Ali (40) put on 81 for the seventh wicket to lead a recovery. Curran, a 20-year-old rising star of the English game, swept a six to bring up the second half-century in his three-Test career and was the last wicket to fall.
Paceman Jasprit Bumrah was the best of India’s bowlers, finishing with figures of 3-46 off 20 overs and fellow paceman Shami, Ishant Sharma and off-spinner claimed two wickets on a wicket that offered sharp movement off a lightly grassed pitch.
The 24-year-old Bumrah enjoyed a second-innings haul of five for 85 during India’s 203-run win in the third Test at Nottingham that cut England’s lead in this five-match series to 2-1.
He was quickly into the wickets again on Thursday after England captain Joe Root decided to bat first after winning the toss on a sunny morning.
Bumrah struck with just his seventh delivery when, from over the wicket he had the struggling Keaton Jennings lbw for a duck, with the bemused left-hander leaving a ball that cut back into him when he thought it was going the other way.
Number three batsman Root reprieved after a Bumrah review for lbw revealed a no-ball, fell leg before to Ishant Sharma to leave England 15 for two.
Jonny Bairstow had been promoted to bat at number four despite a broken finger suffered at Trent Bridge that means he is unfit to keep wicket, with Jos Buttler set to deputise again behind the stumps as he did at Nottingham.
Bairstow, however, edged Bumrah on six to give India wicket-keeper Rishabh Pant a simple catch.
All the while, Alastair Cook, England’s all-time leading Test run-scorer, had watched the collapse from the other end.
But the veteran opener, himself looking to end of a run of low scores, fell for 17 when he carelessly played outside off stump to Hardik Pandya and saw an edge well caught low down at third slip by India captain Virat Kohli.
England were now 36 for four in the 18th over - the 32nd time in their last 63 Test innings they had been four wickets down with 100 or fewer runs on the scoreboard.
Their position might have been even worse when Buttler (11) saw a Mohammed Shami delivery take the bottom of his bat only for Pant, up too soon, to drop the low chance.
Pant had dropped Buttler early in the batsman’s maiden Test century at Trent Bridge.
But this error was nothing like as costly.
England, 57 for four at lunch, were 69 for five when Buttler, on 21, drove loosely at a swinging delivery from Shami and Kohli took another sharp catch in the slip cordon.
Ben Stokes had made a battling 62 during a second-innings partnership of 169 with Buttler at Trent Bridge.
The left-hander again demonstrated good concentration while making 23 off 79 balls on Thursday but he was lbw when he misjudged a Shami delivery from round the wicket.
But the 20-year-old Curran, unfortunate to be dropped for the returning Stokes in Nottingham, drove Pandya down the ground for four.
And Ali, fresh from making 219 for Worcestershire against Yorkshire, hooked Bumrah for six.
The pair were selected by England after Curran’s fellow 20-year-old Surrey rising star Ollie Pope, a batsman, was dropped and pace-bowling all-rounder Chris Woakes ruled out with a thigh injury.