A century from Moeen Ali and Joe Root’s 88 gave England the better of the first day of the fifth and final Test against India in Chennai.
Moeen, dropped on nought, shared 146 for the third wicket with Root after the tourists had been reduced to 21-2.
When Root was given out caught behind on review, Moeen added 86 with Jonny Bairstow (49) and ended the day 120 not out as England reached 284-4.
India already have an unassailable 3-0 lead in the series.
The momentum has been with the hosts since the drawn first Test, but they were punished for some sloppy moments – as well as the chance missed off Moeen, Root was given a let-off on nine.
After a difficult morning on a surface offering only slow turn, England positively took the upper hand and must capitalise on day two to bat India out of the match, a task that has been beyond them so far on this tour.
“England will be happy with the way the day has panned out,” said former England spinner Vic Marks on Test Match Special. “At 21-2 you thought ‘hang on a minute, last match of the tour, mind’s not on the job’ and England could have made a fool of themselves.
“Root set the pattern, but Moeen managed to get through that first 30-40 minutes when he struggled, and away he went after lunch. He was in great form by the end, and relished the new ball.”
England seemed set to waste winning a fourth toss of the series when Keaton Jennings loosely edged a drive off Ishant Sharma and captain Alastair Cook pushed to slip to give the impressive Ravindra Jadeja the first of his three wickets.
On a turgid morning, an uncertain Moeen was tormented by Ravichandran Ashwin and should have been taken by KL Rahul at mid-wicket off Jadeja, while Root was fortunate to edge through a vacant second slip.
After scoring at 2.34 runs per over in the first session, the tourists took a more aggressive approach following lunch, bumping along at 3.54 for the rest of the day.
First it was the intent of Moeen and Root that reversed the momentum, while Bairstow struck three sixes between long-on and mid-wicket.
Moeen’s batting in this series has reflected the performance of the England team. He made a century when runscoring was its easiest in the first Test, was part of the collapses in the second and third, then played an awful stroke when well set to begin the tourists’ slide in the fourth.
Here, he was initially all at sea against skilful off-spinner Ashwin, who challenged both edges of the bat.
Fluency arrived after lunch as the left-hander scored off his legs with neat footwork and powerful sweeps – almost two-thirds of his runs came through the on side.
He brought up a fourth century of 2016 – more than any other England batsman – with 30 minutes remaining in the day and still had time to play some eye-catching off-drives against the second new ball.