Virat Kohli (left) and Cheteshwar Pujara walk off the pitch at the end of play on Tuesday

Credit: GETTY IMAGES

India (217 & 64-2) lead New Zealand (249) by 32 runs

Wednesday’s ticket could become a collector’s item as the final moves into a sixth day to become the first Test match for 46 years in England to last so long.

The 1975 fourth and final Ashes Test at the Oval was the last six-day match played in this country and the precedent is not exactly encouraging – it ended as a bore draw.

In the 1970s, the final Test was scheduled to last six days if the series was still alive; this time it is the weather that has forced the International Cricket Council to invoke the reserve day, with India 64 for two in the second innings, 32 ahead of New Zealand – who were bowled out for 249 – but with work to do.

A sudden collapse this morning could leave all three results possible and give the Test championship the thrilling finale it needs. Because India have batted slowly they will have to negotiate two sessions to be totally safe. New Zealand will back themselves in pursuit of around 180 in 40 overs, even allowing for the excellence of India’s attack. Sun is forecast, so batting could be easier than at any stage and if New Zealand lost early wickets they could bat out for the draw.

The most likely outcome is the two teams sharing the title and the prize money, with £800,000 to each side, an unsatisfactory way to settle a two-year Test championship, but always the risk with this format. Timeless Tests are not possible with broadcast schedulers needing certainty, and anyway the last timeless Test ended in a draw as well.

There has been an ugly side to the final, with two India supporters ejected from the ground on Tuesday for racially abusing Ross Taylor. The ICC moved swiftly after hearing the abuse on audio from broadcasters.

This is the first Test in England since 2012 to lose two whole days to rain and the woeful over-rate has not helped advance the game either. India managed just 23 in the first session and 27 between lunch and tea. In total, 10 overs were lost on Tuesday.

There were periods when the game fell flat, but mostly this has been an engrossing Test with two highly motivated and skilful teams playing a game of wits in extremely challenging batting conditions.

Kane Williamson is one of the finest players of his generation and New Zealand’s best-ever batsman, but all he could do was hang in and shore up his team against the threat of collapse as India bowled tight, disciplined lines, allowing Virat Kohli to keep attacking fields and squeeze their opponents.

Williamson only managed 15 off his first 100 balls and ground his way to 19 at lunch, adding only seven to his overnight score from 75 deliveries. New Zealand lost three for 34 in the morning with Mohammed Shami outstanding and Kohli managing his bowlers well, but surely regretting a misreading of conditions by picking two spinners. All three seamers bowled more overs individually than the 22 combined from Ravi Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja.

Shami broke through with the second new ball after lunch, removing Colin de Grandhomme leg-before, but New Zealand’s depth could be the difference between the teams. Their last four wickets supplied 87 crucial runs; India’s, by contrast, added only 12 in the first innings.

Kyle Jamieson’s shot-making matched his frame – big and powerful – and upped the run-rate, but one ball after slotting Shami for a straight six, he was caught at fine leg hooking. Williamson was out for 49 off 177 balls, caught at second slip opening the face to a ball he could have left from Ishant Sharma.

Tim Southee continued the hunt for late runs hitting two sixes, the final one striking a spectator in the face. He was out next ball, bowled by Jadeja, but a useful 32-run lead was the result of Williamson’s iron will, while Shami’s four for 76 showed his swing bowling could be England’s greatest threat.

Southee set Shubman Gill up with two away swingers before the straight one had him lbw playing across the line. He came for a second spell and pinned Rohit Sharma leg-before shouldering arms and clonked Kohli on the head, the ball flying for four byes, in a lively end to a slow day.