If you ever take a child to a jungle gym, you’ll notice how they seem cautious the first few times. They test things out, see how strong the structure is, what they can they do, what they can’t, what they enjoy and what they don’t.
Then, after a while, the hesitancy is gone. They rush in there, certain of what they want to do. Unafraid. The plausible explanation for what they do is perhaps simple: the sense of familiarity fills them with confidence.
As India approach another another day five of a match with plenty on the line, this time in a series-opener against England in Chennai, they too will perhaps feels a similar sense of familiarity. After the great escape in Sydney and the incredible win in Brisbane, India will need to do something special (to either save or win) in the fourth innings of a match for the third game in succession.
Watch highlights: Ishant enters 300 club, Ashwin picks up six but England remain in control
It is the same tension, the same sense of having the backs to the wall, the same fear that comes with having heard all the horror tales of day five pitches. But having got through Sydney and having won at the Gabba, India perhaps won’t feel fear in quite the same way.
They’ll know, from experience, that the task won’t be easy. But after doing something a few times, you feel more confident doing it. Do it well, you feel more confident and do it the way India has in the last two matches... you might even back yourself.
As things stand, India will need 381 runs to win on the fifth day and they have nine wickets in hand with Rohit Sharma already back in the dressing room. And most teams would be talking (or at least thinking) survival at this point. But, not this Indian side evidently.
At close of play, Ishant Sharma, who became just the third Indian paceman to take 300 Test wickets during England’s second innings, was asked about what he thought of the game situation.
“It all depends on how we start tomorrow,” he said. “If we get a good start, I am sure we can chase this down. As you know, we have pretty a fearless batting lineup, obviously very positive about this. It’s about the start.”
He didn’t talk about saving the match, he didn’t talk about survival. Rather, he spoke about the statistically slim possibility of a win. It speaks of the mentality in the dressing room. Maybe three matches back, his comments would have been dismissed as being foolhardy. But now, everyone is looking at the other side of the coin. Maybe, just maybe.
Perhaps England were doing that too. For there was no other explanation for their tactics on day four. They dismissed India early for 337 in the first innings but then rather than looking to force the pace and putting India back in as quickly as possible, they let the game meander for a while.
They were playing to a plan with regards to time and possibly had a certain number of overs in mind that they felt they needed to bowl India out again. But at the same time, one couldn’t help but feel that the visitors were adopting a safety-first approach.
With the exception of Jimmy Anderson (157 Tests), the rest of the England bowling line-up is not very experienced. Jofra Archer (11 Tests), Jack Leach (12 Tests) and Dom Bess (12 Tests) have not exactly played a lot of Test cricket and they can be inconsistent.
So maybe England was trying to get the match into a space where they felt the scoreboard pressure would help them as much as the day five pitch would.
The odd ball has misbehaved, but generally, the pitch is still in good shape and certainly not unplayable. But there is, expectedly, more turn and bounce than we have seen at any point in the match and that is the unknown variable here.
India know what mentality they will need to adopt on day five. That is one of the controllables. But they don’t know how the pitch is going to play. That is one of the uncontrollables.
England should believe they are favourites at this point but given what India have achieved in the recent past, Root and Co will be forgiven for being a little wary. The first session, as they so often say, is going to be a big one indeed.
Day four highlights: