SOUTHAMPTON: Moeen Ali spun England right back into contention on a fluctuating second day of the fourth test with five wickets as India slumped to 273 all out in their first innings on Friday.
At 142-2 India were well-placed to build a healthy first-innings lead having bowled England out for 246 but Sam Curran took the vital wicket of Virat Kohli before off-spinner Ali ripped through the middle order with a stunning spell.
India still eeked out a precious 27-run lead though thanks to number three Cheteshwar Pujara who scored his first test century in England, ending on a magnificent 132 not out.
The hosts, looking to wrap up a series win, survived a tricky three-over spell before stumps to reach 6-0 with Alistair Cook on two and Keaton Jennings on four.
A composed Pujara came to the crease in the eighth over of India’s innings and batted superbly, sharing a 92-run partnership with Kohli before putting on 78 for the last two wickets with tailenders Ishant Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah.
India trail the five-test series 2-1 and need to win to keep alive their hopes of a series victory.
All-rounder Moeen was recalled to the side after a five-month absence and he more than justified that decision with figures of five for 63 to drag his side back into the test.
The off-spinner struck with the last ball before tea to dismiss Rishabh Pant for a 29-ball duck.
He removed Hardik Pandya after the interval before bowling Ravichandran Ashwin and Mohammed Shami with consecutive balls in his next over.
Sharma (14) provided good support for Pujara before becoming Moeen’s fifth wicket when Cook took a juggling bat-pad catch at short leg.
It was 31-year-old Moeen’s fifth five-wicket haul in tests.
The end looked nigh but the unflappable Bumrah proved the perfect partner for Pujara as India’s last pairing put on another 46 before becoming Stuart Broad’s third victim of the day, looping a simple catch to Cook.
India began the day on 19-0 and made a brisk start, moving to 37 before Broad trapped Lokesh Rahul lbw with an inswinger that was on review was shown to be hitting the top of middle stump.
Broad then had fellow opener Shikhar Dhawan caught behind by Jos Buttler after a watchful 23.
Pujara and Kohli took India to 100 for two at lunch, with Kohli passing the 6,000 test run milestone.
When Kohli continued to play fluently after the interval it looked ominous for the hosts.
But as on the opening day, Curran made a vital intervention.
The all-rounder whose 78 helped rescue England from 86-6 on Thursday, got one to slant across Kohli and the India skipper’s judgement for once deserted him as he prodded forward and edged low to Cook at first slip to fall on 46.
Pujara got lucky in the following over when he dangled his bat outside off stump to a Ben Stokes delivery, edging the ball between Cook and Buttler for a streaky boundary.
Stokes, bowling at three-quarter pace because of an injury, was cursing his luck again in his second over of the day when his captain Joe Root could not hold a sharp low chance after Ajinkya Rahane nicked a wide delivery.
Rahane’s reprieve was shortlived though as in Stokes’ next over he was trapped lbw by a big inswinger having made 11.
Moeen had Pant plumb lbw just before tea and the wheels truly fell of India’s innings following the break.
Running out of partners, Pujara switched into attack mode, moving into three figures with some lusty blows.
He struck 16 boundaries and his 257-ball knock left the match on a knife edge.