Chennai, February 13: Rohit Sharma oozed class with an aesthetically pleasing 161 on a challenging track, helping India seize the initiative with a solid opening day score of 300 for 6 against England in the second cricket Test here on Saturday.
Ajinkya Rahane looked equally attractive during his knock of 67 off 149 balls and the two Mumbaikars added 162 runs for the fourth wicket, making it worth the effort for the 12,000 who flocked the Chepauk as Indian cricket welcomed its fans back in the stadium amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The key was to use good footwork. We had the strategy (on the sweep shot), we did discuss the game plan on this, and wanted to make them bowl to our strengths, good that the plans came off,” Rahane said at the end of day’s play.
A score of 350 plus in the first innings will be equivalent to 550 plus on any other track and Rishabh Pant’s (33 batting) dangerous presence could also take India well beyond the magic figure on this track. At stumps, he had debutant Axar Patel (5) for company.
Rohit had scored six Test hundreds prior to this knock but he will be the first to admit that in terms of conditions on offer and the quality of attack he faced, the seventh one would be at the top of the list.
On a hot Saturday, Rohit did two things at one go.
Firstly, he put India in a commanding position on a track which was way more difficult for batting than he made it look with 18 fours and two sixes in his 231-ball knock.
Secondly, he put all the naysayers in their place by scoring runs when it mattered the most. The team is aiming for a comeback after a crushing 227-run loss in the first Test.
Joe Root was marvellous with his sweep shot during the first Test but Rohit was simply magnificent with his execution on a doubly difficult track on which he gave England spinner Moeen Ali (26-3-112-3) a lesson in controlled aggression.
The way Rohit put a big front-foot stride outside the off-stump to sweep deliveries off both Moeen and Jack Leach (26-2-78-2) will not be forgotten by all who were fortunate to witness the innings.
Rohit’s defence was spectacularly solid and offence as assured as a safe house.
Knowing fully well that the track would start crumbling with the passage of play, Rohit attacked at the first go, picking 80 runs in the first session, something that will perhaps play the biggest role in the final context of the game.
It started with a cover drive off Stuart Broad and then there was a pulled six over mid-wicket off Ben Stokes.
While skipper Virat Kohli (0) was done in by a classical off-spinner’s delivery from Moeen — flighted outside the off-stump and enticing him to go for a cover drive only to find his defence breached.
If Rohit played those sweeps in a regal manner, Rahane was no less classy in his drives — the front and back-foot punches off the pacers and those lovely cut shots off the spinners were delightful to watch.
Call it irony, Rahane chose a wrong delivery from Moeen for playing the sweep and was bowled in the process.
He hit nine boundaries in a half-century that came after a barren run of seven innings. This was after he survived an umpiring howler from Anil Chaudhary.
But then, he was destined to be in Rohit’s shadow on a day when determination became his primary capital.
“It is a difficult track where you don’t know whether to come forward or remain on the back-foot,” Sunil Gavaskar, who knows more than a thing or two about batting on turners, said on air.
Leach was introduced in the ninth over and Rohit perhaps remembered his second innings dismissal in the opening Test.
He knew that Leach’s main weapon was extra bounce with a slight turn. He met Leach’s deliveries by putting the front leg across the off-stump.
This negated any chance of his off-stump getting exposed and he also couldn’t be adjudged leg before.
Root had got Moeen for this match in place of Dom Bess, primarily because of the prodigious turn that is expected to be on offer.
However, the senior-most spinner made a cardinal mistake that happens out of excitement for all tweakers when they see cracks.
They try to go for extra turn rather than hitting one spot and letting the pitch do the rest.
It only helped a player like Rohit dispatch him with the turn.
It was only fitting that he reached his three figure mark with a sweep that got him two runs and also perished when he top-edged playing the same shot.
It wasn’t the easiest of conditions but for India’s ‘Hit-Man’, difficult has always been the easiest route. (PTI)