NAGPUR: A desperate India's push for a series-levelling win was met with a dogged resistance from England who rode on Jonathan Trott's gritty half-century to overcome a nervous phase as the fourth and final Test seemed headed for a draw.
India batted for one hour in the morning before declaring their first innings at 326 for nine, four runs behind England, but could not make sufficient inroads as England reached 161 for three at close of an absorbing fourth day's play.
The hosts needed quick wickets but the fourth day track at the VCA stadium did not show any signs of deterioration as England batted out the day without seeming to be under any major discomfort.
Trott (66) and Ian Bell (24) were batting at stumps, with England having an overall lead of 165 runs.
With just one day let in the game, a draw appears to be the likely result though all four outcomes — an Indian win, England win, tie and a draw — can still be possible.
India will need to dismiss England as quickly as possible on Monday and score the required runs to entertain hopes of a series-levelling win. England will be quite content with a draw which would be enough to give them their first Test series triumph on Indian soil in 28 years. The David Gower-led England team had last won a series in 1984-85.
Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni kept shuffling his bowlers in a bid to break through the England innings but the English batsmen applied themselves well to keep the hosts at bay, much to the disappointment of a seizable holiday crowd.
England were at a shaky 94 for three at one stage with captain Alastair Cook (13), Nick Compton (34) and Kevin Pietersen (6) back in the pavilion but Trott and Bell ensured that there were no further setbacks with a defiant 67-run partnership.
Trott was however a little lucky as a confident appeal for caught behind off Ishant Sharma was turned down by umpire Kumar Dharmasena, leading to some heated words being exchanged between Trott and Virat Kohli after the over.
Cook was controversially declared caught behind after making a painstaking 13 in 105 minutes, to Ravichandran Ashwin, while his opening partner Compton was given out leg before to Pragyan Ojha to leave England at 81 for two at tea.
The England skipper seemed to have clearly missed edging the ball to Dhoni, but was given out wrongly by Kumar Dharmasena for the second time in the match.
Replays also showed that Compton had been given out off an inside edge by Rod Tucker, though the ball was caught at slip by Virat Kohli at gully on the full.
Soon after tea debutant Ravindra Jadeja disturbed Pietersen's off stump when the England batsman offered no stroke expecting the ball to turn away.
The visitors, clearly aiming to draw the match, added only 64 runs in 33.4 overs between lunch and tea after they were 17 for no loss in 13 overs at lunch. They were more attacking in the last session, scoring 80 in 32.2 overs. Before their debatable ejections from the crease, both Cook and Compton were bent upon defending everything. Runs came in a trickle though Cook was a bit fortunate. A delicate leg glance off Ojha struck Cook's counterpart Dhoni's right pad and went in between lone slip Virender Sehwag's legs for his first four.
In the same over, he tried to drive the left-arm spinner and missed the ball completely, but was lucky as it bounced over the stumps for four byes.
Cook's deadpan defense was always fraught with danger as Ashwin made a ball turn across the face of his defensive forward stretch and earned a caught behind decision in India's favour.
After Cook's ouster, both Compton and Trott were also keen on defending rather than scoring runs, barring one occasion when a ball slipped out of Jadeja's hand and was rolling wide when Trott hammered it for a 'free' four. It was clearly against the spirit of the game.
The duo of Compton and Trott continued in the same vein as India tried to break their association without success till the stroke of tea, when Ojha successfully appealed for a leg before decision against the former. In the morning, India conceded a four-run first innings lead by declaring their first innings after an hour's play.
The hosts, replying to the visitors' first innings score of 330 and resuming at an overnight 297 for eight, lost the wicket of Ojha, before closing their innings.
Ojha, who had replaced Piyush Chawla after the latter was dismissed in the last over yesterday evening, played on to left-arm spinner Monty Panesar at the score of 317. He dragged a ball from Panesar — who had come into the attack in place of Graeme Swann — with his forearm on to his stumps.
It was the spinner's first and, what proved to be, only wicket of the innings in a total spell of 52 overs for 81 runs. Ashwin remained unbeaten on 29, adding 22 runs to his overnight score.
James Anderson was the most successful bowler with a haul of four for 81, three of those claimed on the second evening, while Swann claimed three for 76.