Jonny Bairstow dashed off another outstanding century, his third in as many Tests and fifth this year, but England were battling the odds after day three of their series decider against India.
Bairstow is enjoying a career-best run of form, starting 2022 with battling hundreds in Sydney and Antigua before lighting up the summer with consecutive tons at Trent Bridge, Headingley and now Edgbaston.
His 106 was a typically rambunctious affair, containing 14 boundaries and two sixes, but England still gave up a 132-run lead after being bowled out for 284.
India closed 257 in front on 125 for three, poised for the kind of target that might even intimidate a side who have chased down scores of 277, 299 and 296 over the past month against New Zealand.
Cheteshwar Pujara was doing vital work with an unbeaten 50, but England’s current and former captains did combine to grab the important wicket of Virat Kohli.
Kohli had earlier been involved some sparring with Bairstow but, while the Yorkshireman cannot stop scoring centuries, the India star last managed one in November 2019. He looked hungry for a score but was cut short on 20 when he gloved a rising delivery from Ben Stokes and was caught one-handed by Joe Root after a fumble from wicketkeeper Sam Billings.
England were chasing the game at 84 for five at the start of play, 332 adrift with Bairstow and Stokes primed for a counter-attack. Mohammed Shami could have ended things abruptly during a brilliant but luckless spell from the Pavilion End, beating Bairstow repeatedly with some generous seam movement and leaving him hanging by a thread.
A few heated words between Bairstow and Kohli, who made raised a finger to his lips to ‘shush’ the Yorkshireman, appeared to inspire the in-form batter. Steeled by the perceived provocation he threw himself into a couple of meaty drives and then went aerial, aiming two dismissive blows down the ground.
Bairstow had scored 13 from 61 balls before his verbals with Kohli and scored 93 off his next 79.
Stokes had something similar in mind but could not find the balance between intent and execution. He was dropped by Shardul Thakur after skying a simple catch to cover, then again on 25 when punching Thakur straight to mid-off.
Captain Jasprit Bumrah was the guilty party on that occasion but took the chance to make amends with a diving take off the very next delivery, Stokes refusing to heed his warning as he attempted a near identical stroke.
He threw his head back and laughed at the manner of his dismissal, but with England 149 for six, the Indian smiles were even wider. Bairstow was well in the zone by now, and found solid support in Sam Billings (36).
Bairstow was running through his favourite options, whipping the ball off his pads and into gaps, crunching straight hits over the top and twice pulling bumpers for six.
He was nine short of his 11th Test hundred at lunch, only halted by a rain delay, but stroked the first ball of the afternoon for four and was soon engaging in a familiar celebration. There was a sprint off the square, some lingering waves of the bat towards all four corners of the ground and finally a hug from Billings. Bairstow knows these ropes well enough by now.
It was fitting that Shami was the man to dismiss, given his earlier lack of luck, with Bairstow’s booming drive ending up in the hands of slip. Mohammed Siraj mopped up the last three wickets to massage his figures, leaving India’s 132 ahead.
James Anderson gave England an ideal start, taking Shubman Gill’s edge with a teasing outswinger from the third ball of the innings. India opted for pragmatism during an extended evening session, stretching their lead with the kind of safe cricket England have abandoned.
Cheteshwar Pujara is a purist at heart and played a measured role in stands of 39, 32 and 50 before stumps. Hanuma Vihari was eventually suckered in by a full one from Broad but it took something more explosive from Stokes to unsettle Kohli.
He played a couple of glorious shots as he worked his way to 20 but was undone when the ball kicked up off a length a rapped his glove. Billings was equally surprised as he parried the catch, but Root snapped up the leftovers one-handed.
It felt like a big moment in the match but Pujara’s diligent half-century and a handy 30no from first-innings centurion Rishabh Pant left England as underdogs by stumps.