2nd Test: Sharma’s 161 and Rahane’s 67 help India reach 300/6

A counter-attacking 161 (off 231 balls) by Rohit Sharma and his 162-run partnership with Ajinkya Rahane (67) helped India reach 266 for five wickets an hour after tea on the first day of the second Test against England at the MA Chidambaram Stadium here on Saturday.

India, who had lost three wickets in the first session, didn’t lose any in the second session and both Sharma and Rahane handled the England bowlers with ease.

Sharma, who was struggling to get a big score since his return to Test cricket last month, took the attack to the English bowlers as he hit 18 fours and two sixes.

The 33-year-old had raced to 80 off 78 deliveries (13x4s, 1×6) to take India to 106 for three wickets at lunch despite India losing three wickets.

On a pitch that aided turn from very early and on which left-arm spinner Jack Leach was introduced as early as the eighth over of the match, Sharma looked in control and put India in the driver’s seat before a couple of wickets late in the first session gave Joe Root’s side some relief.

India had lost Shubman Gill early with the team total at zero. But then Sharma and No. 3 Cheteshwar Pujara shared an 85-run partnership for the second wicket to help India move into commanding position. The partnership was dominated by Sharma as he unleashed his strokes.

However, just as they looked like they were taking the game away from England, the spinners got into action. Leach got rid of Pujara having him caught at slip by Ben Stokes.

Soon after, off-spinner Moeen Ali, who was proving expensive, spun one back in through the gap between skipper Virat Kohli’s (0) bat and pad to reduce India to 86 for three.

India had won the toss and elected to bat. The hosts made three changes to the side that lost the first Test by 227 runs. They rested pace bowler Jasprit Bumrah and brought in Mohammed Siraj. Left-arm spinner Axar Patel, who is making his Test debut, and Chinaman Kuldeep Yadav replaced left-arm spinner Shahbaz Nadeem and off-spinner Washington Sundar, respectively.

For England, pace bowler Stuart Broad came in for James Anderson, Olly Stone replaced the injured Jofra Archer and picked the wicket of Gill. Off-spin bowling all-rounder Moeen Ali replaced Dom Bess while Ben Foakes replaced Jos Buttler who has gone back to England.

Rohit Sharma scored his seventh Test century — his first one year and after eight innings — to help India reach the 300 for six wickets on the first day of the second Test against England at the M.A.Chidambaram Stadium here on Saturday. Ajinkya Rahene scored 67 while

Rishabh Pant was batting on 33 at close.

The other unbeaten batsman was debutant Axar Patel, who was on five, on a pitch that had started assisting spin from the first hour of the day.

Sharma’s counter-attacking 161 (off 231 balls, 18x4s, 2x6s) and his 162-run partnership with Rahane (149 balls, 9x4s) helped India recover following a poor start after captain Virat Kohli won the toss and chose to bat.

Later in the day, Pant (56 balls, 5x4s, 1×6) put up a 35-run stand with R. Ashwin (13). Axar has so far played seven balls so far and hit one boundary.

India had won the toss and elected to bat. The hosts made three changes in the XI that lost the first Test by 227 runs in the four-Test series. They rested pace bowler Jasprit Bumrah and brought in Mohammed Siraj. Left-arm spinner Patel and Chinaman bowler Kuldeep Yadav replaced left-arm spinner Shahbaz Nadeem and off-spinner Washington Sundar, respectively.

No India batsman over the last 10 years has taken a top Test side’s bowling apart in the first session of a Test as Rohit Sharma did against England on Saturday, though Shikhar Dhawan had hit an unbeaten 104 in the first session on the first day of the one-off Test against Afghanistan in 2018. Sharma smashed 80 off the 106 runs his team had scored on a pitch that provided prodigious turn from the first session of the second Test at the MA Chidambaram Stadium here.

When Sharma reached his century, in the 42nd over, India had still not touched 150-run mark, and by the time he reached 150, India were 230. At the time of his dismissal as the fourth wicket, Sharma had hit 161 of India’s 248. India eventually scored 300 for six wickets at 3.4 runs an over on the first day of the second Test.

Pace-wise, it was like a Virender Sehwag knock, in approach it was different — there were no aerial shots, and plenty of sweep shots, something Indians didn’t use much in the first Test. Sehwag had played a similarly dominant knock to shut out Sri Lanka in Galle in 2008, scoring 201 out of India’s first innings score of 329.

“When you play on turning pitches, you’ve got to be proactive and can’t be reactive. Being on top of the bowler and making sure you are ahead of him was very, very crucial,” said Sharma after the end of the day’s play.

“We knew how the pitch was prepared. We knew it would turn. So we had a few good training sessions and trained according to what we were going to expect in the middle…using your feet a lot more and making sure you sweep the ball. Mentally, I was prepared before the game what I would be facing once I get in,” he added.

Sharma played many sweep shots, negating the rough that off-spinner Moeen Ali tried to exploit. Over one-fourth of his boundaries were off the sweep shots.

Ali, who was brought in for Dom Bess, dismissed India captain Virat Kohli and vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane, getting both bowled. While Kohli’s defences were breached by one turned into him sharply from the rough on the off side as he tried to carve Ali through extra cover against the spin, Rahane was beaten while attempting a sweep shot.

Neither could apply the sweep, at least as well as Sharma did.

Apart from those two dismissals, Ali had a nightmarish outing as Sharma gave a masterclass to all on how to approach a bowler who uses the rough well. Ali had previously troubled India in Tests in England.

“I have seen Moeen Ali bowl a lot. He actually bowls very well in the rough and sweep shot is something that can frustrate a bowler if you are playing that shot really well. If you play that shot, there is not much the bowler can do from there,” explained Sharma.

Sharma said the sweep, where you trying to connect the ball from the rough, took the pitch out of the equation.

“I thought it was a safer option to take because both fielders square were on the boundary. If it was top-edged, it was going to fall in the safe place,” added Sharma.

“I thought it was a percentage shot as well because he was bowling outside the off-stump so LBW wouldn’t have come into play. There was the odd ball he was bowling at the stumps against which I used my feet and tried to cover the spin and reach the ball.”

Sharma was heard telling Rahane ‘aada khel’, roughly translating into playing the sweep shot against spinners even as Rahane himself advised him to stand outside the crease against pace bowlers.

The two added 162 runs for the fourth wicket.

“We have played a lot together so we understand each other. We were chatting constantly. That is why that partnership grew,” said Sharma.

“When we were playing seamers, Ajju (Ajinkya Rahane) told me to stand in front [of the crease] like he was. When we played the spinners — I was sweeping the spinners from the rough — I also told him to use sweep because it takes away the LBW option. Two-three balls he played, they had gone in the air a bit. I told him then that sweep would be a better option. It is a percentage shot on that pitch.”

The preparation helped, said Sharma.

“The preparation I had before the game helped, all I was trying to do, using the feet, playing with the turn, understanding the line they were bowling. Rotating strike was also important because it doesn’t allow the bowler to settle,” he said.

Sharma was on way to a double century at the venue where Sehwag had scored his career-best 319 against South Africa in 2008, the same year in which he later hammered Ajantha Mendis & Co in Galle, Sri Lanka.

But that wasn’t to be. Sharma lived by the sweep and then fell by the sweep holing out to Moeen Ali in deep square leg off Jack Leach.

India: Day 1: 300/6 after 88 overs

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