Two sessions of spin-led carnage left the third Test in Ahmedabad rushing towards a two-day finish, with England needing a miracle to avoid being on the losing side of it.
Seventeen wickets fells in just two sessions of the day-night match as batsmen on both sides lined up to be bamboozled by the spinning – and non-spinning – pink ball.
There have only been six two-day Tests in the past 75 years, but a seventh now seems a certainty after England were skittled for 81 to leave the hosts chasing just 49 under lights in the final session.
England were buoyant after the afternoon’s play, when a hot streak of seven for 31 – including a staggering return of five for eight by captain Joe Root – hauled them back into the game following their first-day blow out.
By dismissing the hosts for 145 they had kept the deficit to a seemingly manageable 33, better than they could have possibly hoped for, but the same conditions which had turned Root’s occasional off-breaks into unplayable hand grenades soon left England’s batsman on the canvass.
In an explosive start to the innings Axar Patel took out Zak Crawley and Jonny Bairstow in the first three balls, dropping a heavy and painful hint for the chaos to come.
Patel was relentless as he picked vast holes in the batting order, pounding away mercilessly and cashing in on the mass inability to distinguish between his big turners and skiddy arm balls. He claimed five for 32 to complete a 10-wicket match haul, while Ravichandran Ashwin moved to 400 Test scalps with four of his own.
The nature of the surface, which has routinely confounded any attempt to bed in, means England will expect to create opportunities but the buffer is surely too thin to give them a puncher’s chance.
India began on 99 for three in reply to England’s 112, moving into the lead after 15 undramatic minutes at the start of the day.
Things would never return to that kind of calmness, with Jack Leach setting in motion a staggering phase of spin domination that surely showed up the pitch as one incapable of providing a squarely balanced contest between bat and ball.
A highlights package of dismissals would show an abundance of players on either side misreading, misjudging or simply missing deliveries that went straight on but that would unfairly discount the huge number either side that ragged sharply to sow the seeds of doubt.
Ajinkya Rahane was the first to fall, pinned in front by Leach with the lead standing at just two. Rohit Sharma, a half-centurion overnight and fresh off the back of a match-winning century in Chennai, was close behind as a botched sweep shot handed Leach another decision.
After an initial blast of Anderson, Root bowed to the inevitable conclusion that his side should have gone in with another specialist spinner and he would be needed to fill the gap.
It is hard to imagine the overlooked Dom Bess or the departed Moeen Ali could have done better than the skipper, though, as he picked up three wickets without conceding a run.
His first ball was good enough to take care of the dangerous Rishabh Pant, tossed up into the left-hander’s rough and snaring the outside edge.
England’s perky demeanour received another timely boost when Root followed up with a dismissal to treasure. Drifting one in from round the wicket to another left-hander, Washington Sundar, he got some serious bite off the pitch, beat the bat and pinged the top of off.
Patel took a different route to the same destination, swinging heartily at his second ball from Root but picking out the man at short cover.
By now Root was involved in a race against Leach as both men circled five-fors, and it was the part-timer who got his nose in front. First Ashwin slogged a top-edge to deep-midwicket then Jasprit Bumrah fell lbw on the back foot.
At the change over England must have felt a mixture of joy at their comeback and trepidation at what awaited them. The joy would soon be gone.
Crawley was responsible for almost half of England’s first-innings runs but followed up with a golden duck, suckered by Patel as he raised the bails with his first ball. Bairstow then turned in a two-ball horror show, given lbw and then reprieved after attempting to sweep the second delivery of the innings only for the third to clean him up between bat and pad.
Dom Sibley followed prior to the deficit being cleared before a 31-run stand between Root and Ben Stokes offered a sliver of hope, bolstered by the former surviving a marginal lbw.
The pair joined the long list of lbw victims, Ashwin getting Stokes (25) for the 11th time in Tests and Patel finally finding a way through Root’s defence. Once Ollie Pope lost his off stump to Ashwin, the end was nigh and none of the last five got to double figures as the spinners ran riot.
With two overs before the dinner break, India shaved 11 off their slender target to move one step closer to a 2-1 lead.