Plunkett gives England a chance
6:58pm Saturday 19th July 2014 in © Press Association 2014
Liam Plunkett was England's catalyst with bat and ball as they gave themselves a shot at a long overdue Test victory, against India at Lord's.
Plunkett's maiden Test 50 helped England to 319 all out early on day three here, despite Bhuvneshwar Kumar's six for 82.
Then, after the hosts had eked out a 24-run lead in this second Investec Test, their pace-bowling all-rounder took two big wickets in two balls.
As forecast rain conspicuously failed to materialise, in glorious sunshine India eventually closed on 169 for four thanks to an ultra-patient four-hour half-century from opener Murali Vijay (59no).
But England should still have a feasible chase over the final two days in pursuit of a first win in 10 Tests since they clinched the Ashes at Durham last August.
Their bowlers made precious little progress between late morning and early evening, with only the wicket of Shikhar Dhawan to show for their efforts in 43 overs.
Plunkett then not only broke a second-wicket stand of 78, by having Cheteshwar Pujara caught-behind with a hint of away movement from a full length, but put himself on a Test hat-trick for the third time this summer.
He did so by bagging another prize victim too, as Virat Kohli left a delivery which kept coming up the slope and hit the top of off-stump.
But the hat-trick proved beyond Plunkett, just like it had twice at Headingley against Sri Lanka last month.
When Stuart Broad had first-innings centurion Ajinkya Rahane controversially caught-behind shortly after - not for the first time already this summer, DRS would have aided India - England had taken three wickets for five runs.
Plunkett (55no) had already made a telling contribution, on a cloudy morning, with a 75-ball half-century following his promotion to number seven as nightwatchman the previous evening.
He and Matt Prior defied the best overhead bowling conditions of the match, completing a very handy 51-run stand.
The seventh-wicket pair were not always convincing, but cashed in regular boundaries - eight, in fact, until Prior mistimed an attempted pull at Mohammed Shami and was very well-caught by Dhawan running back from slip to hold a steepler.
Plunkett's awareness and footwork had saved him, on 30, when an inside-edge on to pad off Shami was headed directly back towards middle-stump before he volleyed it away.
Ben Stokes continued his unenviable sequence of three successive ducks for England, and four runs in his last five international innings, bowled through the gate attempting to drive Kumar.
Broad then hit four between gully and point first ball but edged his second delivery to Dhawan at slip as Kumar took his fifth and sixth wickets in the same over.
The nagging seamer's instant follow-up was a perfect way to celebrate his place on the Lord's honours board, but he got no change out of number 11 James Anderson.
Doubtless still on a high from his world-record batting heroics and career-best at Trent Bridge, Anderson had the confidence to smack his second ball past cover for four to end an especially eventful over.
He stuck around to make 19 of the 39 he and Plunkett added for the last wicket this time, before gloving an attempted reverse-sweep at Ravindra Jadeja straight into the hands of slip.
India's openers then came through unscathed for 15 minutes before lunch, and only Dhawan succumbed in the afternoon - cutting Stokes fiercely to point where Joe Root took an outstanding catch, diving two-handed to his left.
Dhawan's opening partner Murali Vijay was notably unhurried, and troubled little either, as Alastair Cook ran through his bowling options.
England's seamers found their range better than in the first innings, but rewards were harder-earned on a pitch which has lost its dramatic shade of green and is offering just a touch of variable bounce as compensation for the reduction in lavish sideways movement.
Vijay needed 57 deliveries before he hit his first boundary, a leg-glance off Broad, and Pujara was characteristically studied too.
Their slow grind was a frustrating one for England, though - until Plunkett's sudden intervention.
Broad then found enough bounce to hit Rahane on the arm-guard, umpire Bruce Oxenford presumably concluding the noise was bat handle as he gave the unfortunate batsman out after Prior scampered round to leg-gully to make a low gather.
At 123 for four, India appeared particularly vulnerable. But Vijay completed his painstaking 162-ball 50 with successive boundaries off Anderson in an unbroken stand of 46 with a very determined Mahendra Singh Dhoni.