JONNY BAIRSTOW’S agonised expression as he walked off with a broken finger grimly summed up England’s predicament.
After losing all ten of their own wickets in a single session on Sunday, the hosts managed to take just five Indian wickets in 79 overs.
And Bairstow, his face contorted with pain and his England cap covering his damaged hand as he headed for the pavilion, is now a doubt for the final two Tests.
This match is turning into an unmitigated disaster for Joe Root and his team.
England’s bowlers toiled for most of day three of the Third Test as India – and Virat Kohli in particular – ruthlessly ground out a monumental lead.
There only light relief for the home team was that openers Alastair Cook and Keaton Jennings managed to negotiate the final nine overs.
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Jos Buttler and Jennings were the latest to drop catches and the butter-fingered blundering of England’s fielders is becoming a major issue. They have spilled six in the match.
Kohli added a 23rd Test century to his first innings of 97. He has now scored exactly 200 runs in two of the three Tests in the series.
Having spilled a chance at second slip with his bare hands, Buttler was forced to put on his gloves as Bairstow’s replacement behind the stumps.
An X-ray revealed Bairstow has a “small fracture” to the middle finger of his left hand but is expected to bat in England’s second innings with a plastic protector over his glove.
Bairstow said: “The ball from Jimmy Anderson wobbled and I copped it on the end of the finger. It’s part and parcel of this job. It’s a fracture but not displaced and that’s a big thing.”
There are question marks over whether Bairstow will be fit for the Fourth Test in Southampton next Thursday and the final game at the Oval.
If Bairstow cannot play, those in contention would include Surrey wicketkeeper/batsman Ben Foakes and, if Buttler retains the gloves, Worcestershire batter Joe Clarke. Surrey opener Rory Burns could come into a reshuffled order.
Hampshire captain James Vince scored 147 yesterday little more than a week before a Test on his home ground and Moeen Ali made an unbeaten century for Worcestershire. So there is no shortage of contenders.
By the close, England were 23-0 and needing the small matter of 498 more runs for what would be among the most remarkable victories of all time.
Assistant-coach Paul Farbrace added: “After such a poor performance in the first innings, you’d expect the batsmen to show some gumption and guts and get stuck in.
“The key is showing the right intent. That doesn’t just mean hitting boundaries but also defending, leaving and running well.
“We practice our catching very hard but we can’t keep shelling chances. It must be soul-destroying for bowlers when catches are dropped after they work so hard to create chances.
“It comes down either to poor concentration or confidence going when you start to miss chances.”
The misery for England started when Buttler spilled Cheteshwar Pujara on 40. India’s No3 went on to score 72 and add 113 with Kohli for the third wicket.
Pujara was eventually caught by Cook at first slip off Ben Stokes, as straightforward a catch as the one he dropped on Sunday evening.
Kohli did not offer England’s bowlers a glimmer of hope until he reached the 90s.
On 93, he was dropped by Jennings at third slip off Anderson, the ball flying through his hands. Next ball, Kohli edged just short of Cook at first slip.
In the following over, Kohli reached three figures with another edge off Chris Woakes that went through Jennings’ grasp, this time along the ground.
Kohli was leg before to Woakes soon afterwards and Rishabh Pant was held by Cook. Ajinkya Rahane missed one from Adil Rashid but there was time for Hardik Pandya to reach a run-a-ball fifty before Kohli declared.