India ended an intriguing day one of the second Test with a score of 300 for six – a day with several twists and turns, and one standout performance. Rohit Sharma’s innings of 161 was a timely reminder of his ability in any format of the game.
His first action though, was to correctly tell Shubman Gill not to review his lbw decision – he left a ball in Olly Stone’s first over that moved back off the seam enough to take his off stump. After losing the first Test, this might have moved lesser teams – and players – to panic. But India, and Sharma, are not lesser by any means.
Sharma dominated his partnership with Cheteshwar Pujara, contributing 64 of the 85 runs in their second-wicket stand. It was one in which the two batsmen reverted to type, Sharma producing an array of well-timed strokes without trying to hit the cover off the ball while Pujara provided the ballast. It was a surprise then, when Leach drew Pujara forward and the ball turned to find his edge and land in the hands of Ben Stokes at slip.
Sharma had taken advantage of Moeen Ali’s re-introduction to cricket as his first four overs leaked 22 runs, an issue that would dog the spinner throughout the day. But in his fifth over, Ali’s luck changed as he bowled the dream off-spinner’s delivery to Virat Kohli, who was yet to get off the mark.
The ball drifted slightly away from Kohli, dipped to draw him into a cover drive, and turned sharply. Kohli questioned his senses as the ball clipped middle and off stump. It was difficult to work out who was more surprised – the umpires, the 14,000 making up the crowd or the Indian captain himself – and a review was called just so everyone could be sure they hadn’t dreamt it.
Kohli played the WG Grace role to perfection – “they’ve come to watch me bat” he once told an umpire before picking up a broken bail and placing it back on the top of the stumps as if nothing had happened. Surely not? But the camera didn’t lie and England were back in the match: 85 for one to 86 for three in six balls.
Ajinkya Rahane came to the crease under a little pressure, but settled to accompany Sharma to lunch at 106 for three. Sharma’s contribution was a remarkable 80 from 78 balls. To give an indication of his dominance – the other batsmen had made 26 between them from as many balls.
The pair dominated the second session, batting throughout. Tidy bowling from England in the first half-hour brought a slowing of the run-rate, but the bowling seemed to lack threat and menace. Too easy to milk runs, too difficult to gain and maintain pressure.
The pitch, the subject of much discussion before the game, offered spin, but was most dangerous when the ball went through the surface and bounced alarmingly, but as it aged, with application and diligence, it could be scored on – at least before the black topsoil disintegrates.
Sharma and Rahane countered the potential wonder ball that did for their captain by choosing to either sweep the spinners, or to go deep in their crease and look to drive more square, and they wrested almost complete control away from England. Sharma slowed but still brought up his century in 130 balls, and the score at tea was 189 for three.
But a Test day is a long day, and a fielding side looking to do well in India must find the heart to carry on, even when it seems futile.
Root blended pace and spin, trying to find the right combination to break the partnership. Rahane brought up a diligent half-century while Rohit looked set for the day, easily moving the ball around the field to go past 150.
Root found the best partner for Leach – himself – and seemingly from nowhere, England began to find a second foothold in the game.
The strength of Sharma’s innings became his undoing – one sweep too many and he picked out Ali on the square-leg boundary for 161, giving Leach a much deserved second wicket.
In his next over, Leach thought he had Rahane – a review of a not out decision brought about an initial look and a seeming waste. He was nowhere near the ball as it passed his inside edge and then popped up off the pad to Ollie Pope at short leg. What were they looking at? When play resumed it became clear that the third umpire had failed to view all of the delivery, the ball coming back off his pads and flicking his glove. There will be more talked and written about this decision.
In the next over, though, the controversy was rendered moot, as Moeen bowled Rahane neck and crop. Again a failed sweep with Rahane effectively yorking himself and the ball turned in to knock the stumps back: 248 for three became 249 for five – and England had their lost review reinstated.
Ashwin came in with more aggressive intent than Pant, until Root, who had decided to carry on with the old ball after 80 overs, had Ashwin caught by Pope at short leg for 13. Pant and debutant Axar Patel shepherded India to the close, and they surely hold the advantage with runs on the board.
Day 2 will begin with the imminent threat of Pant taking the innings total to one almost insurmountable. The pitch will surely only get more difficult to bat on. A total of 350-375 will be as every bit as good as the 500+ runs England scored in the first Test.
But the day belonged to Rohit Sharma – a masterclass in aggressive opening batting. England can only hope the pitch holds for long enough for their effort to do the same.
Jingle by Mog