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Rohit Sharma and Ravindra Jadeja’s hundreds shepherd India to safety on Day 1 of 3rd Test against England at Rajkot

The hosts were in big trouble at 33/3, but the skipper and local hero came together to turn the tables on England.

Rohit Sharma’s eleventh Test hundred, which enjoyed an element of fortune, was instrumental in helping India go from 33/3 to 326/5 on Day 1 of the third Test against England at Rajkot on Thursday.

India’s Ravindra Jadeja (L) with captain Rohit Sharma walk back to the pavilion(AFP)

In terms of difficulty, the India captain’s 131 (196b, 14×4, 3×6) was perhaps nowhere close to his 161 at Chennai that came on a turner in February 2021 or the sage-like 127 at The Oval against the moving Dukes ball in September 2021 — both knocks against England. But heading a batting line-up which has three frontline batters with a combined experience of seven Tests, it was just as vital. The team required some shepherding, and that is something which he and Ravindra Jadeja’s unbeaten 110 did with style.

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It was halfway through the day’s play, with Rohit and Jadeja starting to unfurl the shots, that England’s bowling was made to feel how so many visiting teams have felt in India. The Rohit-Jadeja stand became India’s biggest partnership of the series when they went past 90 runs itself — the previous best was Yashasvi Jaiswal and Shreyas Iyer adding 90 at Visakhapatnam.

If the series, before Thursday, gave a feeling of India playing catch-up cricket, it’s because their secret sauce — big runs on the board — was missing. The second session of play where England failed to uproot Rohit-Jadeja was the first in this series that India did not lose a wicket.

A cat-and-mouse game

Through the morning session and for most of the post-lunch action, James Anderson and Mark Wood ran in with purpose. But fatigue became a factor before long. Minutes before tea, Ben Stokes introduced Joe Root and Rehan Ahmed in tandem. With innovative field settings, the gameplan had a clear Stokes imprint on it.

Rohit took on the challenge, using his feet to hit Root for a six down the ground. In the next over, he whipped Rehan to the midwicket boundary with a flick. Soon, England began to leak runs as India’s big shots began to take the sheen off Stokes’s quirky field placements.

Stokes cannot be faulted for trying, but his relentlessly attacking ways would find applause only if they produced results. England certainly weren’t getting any support or admonishment from the Rajkot crowd, which was still clearly warming up to the nuances of Test cricket. The few thousand present were simply happy to watch India’s captain and their local hero piling on runs and milestones.

Soon after tea, Rohit completed his hundred and attempted to hit Rehan out of the attack. With the pitch having settled down, Rohit-Jadeja’s fourth wicket stand rose to 200 in 332 balls. It was a typical marathon partnership in Indian conditions, constructed on the foundation of patience and good footwork.

Such partnerships have often worn down the best of bowling attacks in India. England’s spin bowling here is, for lack of a better term, raw. But what they have is a captain who always has his thinking cap on. Stokes summoned Wood, who found reserves for another burst of short-pitched bowling. Having dealt with it earlier by rolling his wrists as he played the pull shot, a loss of concentration saw the India skipper succumb to the fast bowler’s round-the-wicket line, holing out to midwicket.

Impressive Sarfaraz

As Rohit walked back, his path crossed that of debutant and fellow Mumbaikar Sarfaraz Khan. Rohit patted him on the back, wishing him luck and the 26-year-old did not let his skipper down.

Understandably, Sarfaraz was given his first taste of Test cricket with some perfume balls from Wood. Perhaps another such over wouldn’t have been a bad punt. But at the back end of a long spell, Wood was given a break. Stokes didn’t bring in his old warhorse Anderson to test the youngster either.

Instead, they chose spin and set attacking fields. But Rehan was too inconsistent and Root’s off-spin too inviting. In no time, Sarfaraz shed the nervous jitters and began to race away, picking up length early and stroking boundaries. Suddenly, international cricket didn’t feel all that difficult for the young man.

A miscommunication with Jadeja cut his innings short on 62 (66b, 9×4, 1×6) but the 77-run stand, dominated by Sarfaraz, allowed India to put the pressure back on England. It also put smiles on the faces of everyone watching.

During this spell, Wood’s express pace was the clear point of difference for which he was drafted into the eleven in anticipation of the flat deck here. Opener Yashasvi Jaiswal made the first error of the day, playing with an open face to Wood’s over-the-wicket line and handing a regulation catch to first slip on 10.

Shubman Gill’s troubles continued as he was set up by Wood and fell caught behind for 0. This, even as Cheteshwar Pujara was batting in the adjoining nets of the stadium for his next domestic outing. Rajat Patidar (5) was indecisive against Tom Hartley and left to rue his dismissal from the dressing room as others piled on the runs.


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