If India found picking up English wickets tough on days one and two, it proved even tougher for England to make headway on the third day of the fourth Test at the Vidarbha Cricket Association ground in Nagpur. Virat Kohli and Mahendra Singh Dhoni did exactly what was needed of them - play patient, grinding innings - to get India out of the woods, but that's exactly where India ended up at the end of the day when they lost four wickets in a hurry to go to stumps at 297 for 8 in response to England 330.
While Kohli got to a well-deserved century, Dhoni missed his by a run, running himself out needlessly towards the end of the day.
After the second day, Piyush Chawla had said that if Kohli and Dhoni could bat for an hour on the third morning, India would have taken some strong steps towards saving the Nagpur Test match. Kohli and Dhoni went four better than the forecast, batting together for exactly five hours on the day. Theyadded 198 runs for the fifth wicket, saved India's blushes and got the crowd of 20,000-odd rather excited. But the proceedings of the last hour undid much of the good work of the first two-and-a-half sessions.
It was slow going, just like on the first two days. The bowlers, pace or spin, didn't threaten much and it was always clear that wickets would fall only if the batsmen committed an error. And with Kohli and Dhoni - both aggressive players not known for patience - the possibility of that error was always there. The two batted in exemplary fashion, all loose shots left behind in Kolkata, defending stoutly and scoring only when there was no risk involved.
Starting the day at a precarious 87 for four, Kohli and Dhoni added just 59 runs in 32 overs in the first session and then another 81 in the 27 overs bowled in the second session, as we saw hands on hips and shoulders drooping among the England fielders. There were pretty shots on offer too, especially from Kohli, who found opportunities, though scarce, to pounce on relatively loose deliveries to hit eight classical boundaries between point and extra-cover.
And when Dhoni played his 188th delivery, it was his longest outing in a Test match, going past the 187 he faced in scoring 132 not out against South Africa in Kolkata back in February 2010. He eventually faced 246 balls. It was not the sort of innings one would expect fromDhoni, but one that came as a strong reply to anyone who might have questioned his commitment to the Indian cause.
England might have missed a trick in bowling James Anderson and Graeme Swann less than Monty Panesar and Tim Bresnan through the afternoon, and when the wicket finally came, it was off Swann's bowling when he trapped Kohli (103) in front of the stumps with a classical offspinner bowled from around the wicket.
By then, Kohli had reached his century, his third in Test cricket, with a punch off the back foot from one that Swann pitched short. For Kohli, talked about as one of the pillars that the Indian team of the immediate future would stand on, this was a crucial innings as it came on the back of just 85 runs scored in the Test series so far. And the celebration - though it included the customary leap and fist pump - did look a bit tempered in comparison with what we had seen in the past.
At that stage, Dhoni was on 91. In the penultimate over of the day, probably in his desperation to get to the yardstick before close of play, he tried to steal a non-existent single, and was run out for 99 by a direct hit from Alastair Cook running in from mid-off.
Between Kohli's and Dhoni's dismissals, Ravindra Jadeja came in to bat, hit two streaky fours and was dismissed leg before by Anderson for 12. Chawla, entrusted with seeing out the remains of the day, was bowled for one by Swann to signal the close of play.
Whether the situation was good enough for India to push for a result in their favour and end the series 2-2 depended on how many runs R Ashwin could add with the last two batsmen and how quickly they can pick up English second-innings wickets on Sunday. At this stage, though, with the pace at which runs have been scored in the match, any result but a draw appeared improbable.