Sarfaraz excels after Rohit, Jadeja bail India out of choppy waters

When Rohit Sharma fancied an encore of the risky slog he’d executed off Tom Hartley earlier in the 13th over, an outside edge scooted low to Joe Root’s left at slip. Perhaps blinded by the batter, he was late to react and England lost the golden opportunity to dislodge one of the few stalwarts there are in India’s batting line-up at the moment. Reprieved on 27, Rohit added 204 with Ravindra Jadeja to yank India out of the hole that they found themselves in after a calamitous opening hour wherein the early moisture was up to tricks.

India have diverged from their tried-and-tested formula in the ongoing series against England, showing a reluctance to dish out rank turners given the inexperience of their own batting unit. Striking with the new ball is thus crucial. Mark Wood made sure India couldn’t blaze off the blocks on a flat pitch, bolting in from over the wicket to hit hard lengths. Both Yashasvi Jaiswal and Shubman Gill poked at away-seamers, with the latter again going at the ball with hard hands.

Rajat Patidar announced his arrival with a glorious backfoot punch off Wood but a ball stopped on him and bounced awkwardly to produce a leading edge as he shaped up for a cut in Hartley’s first over of the match, leaving India in a spot of bother at 33/3. India were in dire need of experience at the crease, resulting in the promotion of Jadeja over debutant Sarfaraz Khan.

Rohit likes pace on the ball, evident in the grace with which he unfurled an on-drive and flick against Wood, but the seam movement extracted by James Anderson was making him uneasy. He was even caught on the frontfoot with an inducker only for the review to reveal an inside edge. An agitated Rohit tried to hit his way out of trouble, lofting Hartley for a boundary down the ground and giving Anderson the charge to barely clear mid-on. Riding his luck, the Indian captain brought up his first 50+ score in eight innings.

Feasting on freebies from Root to attain their fifty stand, the left-right combination took India to safer waters, with 93 runs coming till Lunch at the cost of three wickets. Nearly as many came in the afternoon session but much to their satisfaction, India remained unscathed. Anderson found reverse swing to cut Jadeja into half on a couple of occasions and the short-ball tactic was employed as well but he was at his vigilant best, playing each ball on its merit to orchestrate India’s first century partnership of the series.

Towards the end of the middle session, England finally introduced spin at both ends. Rohit noticed Root had both mid-on and mid-off up in the circle and lofted the off-spinner over mid-on the instant he floated the ball above the eyeline. He was rolling his wrists on the pull in the morning when Ben Stokes stationed three catchers on the square leg fence, but his attacking impulse took over on the other side of his 11th Test ton as a miscue brought an end to a repair-job done well.

England had the chance to send both the set batters packing in quick succession but they appealed half-heartedly on the last ball of the 73rd over when Jadeja lunged forward to block. The umpire turned down the lukewarm shout thinking there was a ricochet from the bat, but the ball made contact with the pad first and HawkEye threw up three reds.

Adding insult to the visitors’ injury was Sarfaraz Khan, who came out with a clear game plan and showed immense faith in his ball-striking ability. He slog-swept Root, thumped Hartley into the sightscreen and pulled off a cheeky dab against Anderson to lift the scoring rate at a time when Jadeja, approaching a hundred, began playing possum. Oozing confidence, the stocky right-hander looked primed for three figures when a cruel twist of fate hampered his exploits. On 99, Jadeja pushed one straight to mid-on and called Sarfaraz, who reacted immediately only to be sold down the river by his senior partner.

Skipper Rohit was livid in the dressing room and the guilt was apparent in Jadeja’s subdued celebration upon reaching the landmark. The onus is now on the local lad to usher India to an above-par first innings total at the venue where he crafted his maiden Test ton in 2018.

Brief Scores: India 326/5 (Rohit Sharma 131, Ravindra Jadeja 110*, Sarfaraz Khan 62; Mark Wood 3-69) vs England

Broadcast Schedule

England v West Indies 2024
ENG v WI 3rd Test, Edgbaston
26th July to 30th July
Start time: 11:00 am BST