Resuming at 58/3, India began rather solidly as opener KL Rahul and vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane saw off the first hour's play in the final day of the series. When it seemed like he was starting to find his rhythm, the Mumbaikar threw his wicket away to a poorly executed sweep shot.
When Ben Stokes removed debutant Hanuma Vihari for a duck with a rising delivery, the writing almost appeared to be on the wall for India. After all, they were positioned precariously at 121/5 and still needed to bat more than two sessions for survival. In walked 20-year-old Rishabh Pant.
Even though the pitch did not bear any demons, the hopeless situation of the game meant that the visitors were on the brink. However, what followed was a truly exhilarating partnership which might just have showed a glimpse of India's future in the batting department.
Rahul and Pant rejuvenate India's hopes
By the time Pant joined him in the middle, Rahul was well set on 74 from 98 deliveries. England skipper Joe Root looked to sustain pressure on the two batsmen by juxtaposing Moeen Ali's off-breaks with stifling seam from the other end.
A rare long hop from Moeen allowed Pant to get off the mark with a boundary. Meanwhile, Rahul interspersed the orthodox sweep with the reverse variation to keep the prowling off-spinner at bay.
The elegant right-hander raced towards his century by taking the attack to Ben Stokes. After leaving everyone in utter disbelief with a smashing six over deep extra cover, Rahul pounced on a tired short delivery to attain his fifth Test century.
Taking a cue from his partner's spurts of aggression, the naturally attacking Pant decided to have a go at Moeen. Root's decision to begin the post-lunch session with spin from both ends actually ended up helping the young left-hander settle into the groove.
Adil Rashid's tendency to misplace his lengths from time to time meant that Pant had scoring opportunities to work with. Both batsmen used the feet admirably to combat the spin threat on a weary surface.
While Stokes sent down a long spell from one end, Root brought himself on when his main spinners looked bereft of ideas. In particular, Pant took a special liking to the seam all-rounder. The right-arm pacer ended up conceding a slew of boundaries to the left-hander who seemed to be growing in confidence with every over.
Pant reached his maiden Test century in stunning fashion. After swinging through the line to a full delivery, he slog-swept an even fuller one from Adil Rashid to send the ball sailing into the stands. The brace of sixes ensured that India went into the tea break with considerable hope.
Although Rashid eventually had the last laugh by dismissing both centurions in quick succession, the 204-run partnership between Rahul and Pant served up some truly breathtaking stroke-play at the Oval.Published 11 Sep 2018, 22:25 IST