Birmingham: Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow took the attack to India as England closed in on a fourth successive winning run chase under their new Test leadership duo of captain Ben Stokes and coach Brendon McCullum.
England were 259-3 at stumps on the fourth day of the Covid-delayed fifth Test, needing just a further 119 runs to reach a target of 378 on Tuesday’s last day at Edgbaston and so end this five-match series all square at 2-2.
Former captain Root was 76 not out and Bairstow 72 not out after making 106 — his third hundred in as many Tests — in England’s first-innings 284.
The Yorkshire duo had added an unbroken 150 in 22 overs on Monday after coming together at 109-3, with England having lost three wickets in quick succession either side of tea.
India wasted two of their three reviews this innings when Root was on 11 and 16, with spinner Ravindra Jadeja and paceman Mohammed Shami the bowlers rightly denied lbw verdicts against the world’s top-ranked Test batsman.
Bairstow was reprieved on 14 when an edge off Mohammed Siraj burst through the hands of Hanuma Vihari at second slip.
Root, driving stylishly, brought up his fifty in 71 balls.
The in-form Bairstow took four more deliveries to reach the landmark before late cutting Shami for four and pulling Siraj for six.
There have been only two successful fourth-innings chases above 200 in a Test at Edgbaston, with South Africa making 283-5 in 2008 and England 211-3 against New Zealand in 1999.
England, however, reached seemingly stiff targets of 277, 299 and 296 during a recent 3-0 whitewash of Test world champions New Zealand.
And their newly aggressive ‘Bazball’ approach, named in honour of McCullum’s nickname, was evident from the start of their latest chase.
Alex Lees and Zak Crawley, with a blizzard of boundaries, shared a century opening stand in 19.5 overs — the fastest in England Test history.
But India stand-in captain Jasprit Bumrah bowled Crawley, shouldering arms, for 46 with an excellent off-cutter.
Ollie Pope was then out for a duck to the first ball after tea, caught behind off Bumrah, to the raucous delight of India supporters at Edgbaston.
England then suffered a self-inflicted blow when Lees was run out for 56 off just 60 balls when Root called him for a non existent single.
So wild were the celebrations of Virat Kohli, the former India captain was spoken to by umpire Aleem Dar.
India resumed on their overnight 125-3. Cheteshwar Pujara was 50 not out and Rishabh Pant — who made 146 in a first-innings total of 416 — 30 not out.
Pujara had only been recalled to the top of the order after India captain Rohit Sharma and fellow opener KL Rahul were ruled out by Covid-19 and a groin injury respectively.
It looked like India might set a really challenging target in excess of 400 while Pujara and Pant were at the crease.
But Pujara’s four-hour innings ended when he cut Stuart Broad to backward point, with the 34-year-old now having gone 50 innings since his last Test century — 193 against Australia at Sydney in January 2019.
The aggressive Pant fell for 57 when a miscued reverse sweep off left-arm spinner Jack Leach was caught by Joe Root at slip, with Stokes then mopping up the tail on his way to 4-33 in 11.5 overs.
This decider should have been played in Manchester last September only to be postponed just hours before the start because of coronavirus concerns within the India camp.