Jos Buttler's birthday bash puts India in a bind in The Oval Test
Test debutant Hanuma Vihari has been left with the arduous task of dragging India out of the doldrums against England when play resumes at The Oval on Sunday.
The tourists were left reeling on 174-6 at stumps on Day 2 of the fifth and final Test on Saturday in response to England's 332 all out, with Vihari batting on 25 and Ravindra Jadeja on eight.
The stakes are not that high as England, 158 runs ahead, have an unassailable 3-1 lead in the series. But India will no doubt be desperate to win in London to end the tour on a relative high.
It was a day of struggle for the visiting batsmen, however, with no one able to kick on after getting good starts.
Captain Virat Kohli, the only consistent batsman in this line-up, top-scored before nicking one to slips off the bowling of Ben Stokes for 49. Opener Lokesh Rahul and one-down Cheteshwar Pujara were both dismissed for 37.
With the other opener Shikhar Dhawan (3), vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane (0) and wicketkeeper Rishabh Pant (5) getting out cheaply, it was left to Vihari, the 24-year-old middle-order batsman from the southern Indian city of Kakinada, to save India the blushes.
His has been a 50-ball knock thus far, one laced with a six and three fours.
Earlier in the day, Jos Buttler celebrated his 28th birthday with an innings of 89 that left England on top at The Oval.
The hosts started the second day on 198-7 and in very real danger of being dismissed for less than 200. But Buttler and Stuart Broad (38) frustrated India with a ninth-wicket stand of 98 as, yet again this series, the home team bounced back with the bat after a top-order collapse.
Significantly, this was the fourth time in five innings that Buttler, recalled to Test duty earlier this season by new national selector Ed Smith, had been England's top-scorer.
Alastair Cook, in his final Test appearance before international retirement, made 71 on Friday. But the left-handed opener's dismissal sparked a slump that saw England lose six wickets for 48 runs.
Buttler, who had been given out lbw to Mohammed Shami on eight on Friday only for a review to reveal an inside edge, was 11 not out overnight, with Adil Rashid unbeaten on four.
Despite overcast conditions that promised to assist India's fast bowlers, Rashid was quickly into his stride with two well-struck fours off Jasprit Bumrah.
But on 15 he fell lbw to the fast bowler, with England then 214-8.
New batsman Broad was peppered with several short-pitched deliveries but hung in long enough to on-drive Shami down the ground for a textbook four.
Buttler then clipped Ishant Sharma behind square for four to raise a fifty stand with Broad. And Buttler then completed his own fifty in 84 balls, including five fours.
The back-up wicketkeeper followed up by driving Ishant through extra cover for four before Broad's two off the same bowler brought up the 300.
England scored 106 runs in Saturday's morning session, with Buttler 63 not out at lunch and Broad 36 not out.
Broad's innings ended when a soaring mistimed drive off left-arm spinner Jadeja was well caught over his shoulder by a diving Rahul, running back from mid-on.
Buttler, on 69 at the time, responded to the arrival of last man James Anderson by hitting two sixes in three balls off Bumrah - a drive over long-on and a hook over long leg.
But looking for a single to keep the strike, he fell short of what would have been his second Test hundred when he guided Jadeja to Rahane at slip.
More on England-India Test series:
Takeaways from Southampton: England's middle-order men prop up top-order
Jadeja, playing his first match of the series after off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin was sidelined through injury, had fine figures of 4-79 in 30 overs.
Bumrah and Ishant took three apiece but fellow paceman Shami, who repeatedly beat the bat, was unlucky to bowl 30 wicketless overs that cost 72 runs.
Anderson started India's innings needing four wickets to equal Australia great Glenn McGrath's record for the most Test wickets taken by any fast bowler of 563.
But it was longstanding new-ball partner Broad who made the breakthrough when, with his first delivery on Saturday, he had Dhawan lbw.
Off-spinner Moeen Ali, who took a hat-trick to complete a win over South Africa in his last Test appearance at The Oval, almost struck in his first over on Saturday when Pujara, on 10, turned him off his hip only for Cook to drop a sharp one-handed chance at short-leg.
Updated: September 24, 2018 10:58 PM