Indian bowlers were made to toil as England began their campaign on a promising note, riding on star batsman Joe Root’s 11th century to finish the opening day of the first cricket Test at a solid 311/4 in Rajkot. England’s leading batsman in recent years, Root was his customary elegant self and made 124 off 180 balls, while Moeen Ali was one short of his fourth Test hundred when the stumps were drawn after 93 overs at the Saurashtra Cricket Association Stadium.
Root’s effort was the first Test century by a visiting batsman in India since Michael Clarke’s 130 at Chennai in February 2013. This was also the first time in the last 21 innings a visiting side crossed a 300 plus score in India.
The 25-year-old Root’s maiden ton on the Indian soil was laced with one six and 11 fours, while Ali struck nine boundaries. The duo shared 179 runs for the fourth wicket to bail England out from a tricky 102/3.
Ben Stokes (19) was the other unbeaten batsman at stumps. To India’s good fortune, the well-entrenched Root was dismissed midway into the last session through a return catch by Umesh Yadav who bent low to accept the firm drive but then, in his enthusiasm, flicked the ball back over his head.
Luckily for the home team, which looked bereft of ideas on how to dismiss the classy batsman, the third umpire ruled in India’s favour after Root stood his ground, indicating the pacer had not completed the catch.
India, incidentally, had not taken the second new ball till stumps. Pacer Mohammed Shami going off the field with a hamstring injury was not good news for India. The seamer returned later, but clearly looked in pain.
Earlier, things had seemed bright for the hosts, who are seeking their third back-to-back Test series triumph and their first in four rubbers against the tourists, when they packed off England captain and their scourge Alastair Cook for 21 who was trapped leg before by Ravindra Jadeja.
Cook, dropped on zero off the third ball of the match by Ajinkya Rahane off Shami, later preferred not to review the leg before wicket decision given against him although replays suggested the ball might have missed the leg stump.
The other two wickets that fell early in the day were grabbed by off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin who sent off debutant opener Haseeb Hameed for 31, earning a leg before verdict that was reviewed by England without success and Ben Dockett for 13, caught at slip by Rahane in the last over before lunch.
But thereafter one-down Root, batting fluently and using his feet beautifully against the spinners, and Ali, who played the ideal foil, took centrestage as they laid the foundation for a huge first innings total.
India, who lost the advantage of the toss at home for the first time after eight Tests, also let themselves down with sloppy close-in catching, grassing three in all, to let England off the hook.
Catches were dropped off Cook and Haseeb Hameed was let off by Murali Vijay in the slips off Yadav in the sixth over. Cheteshwar Pujara, at short leg, let the ball through his legs when Ali turned Ashwin after completing his half ton.
To make matters worse, the home team was also without Shami for some time as he limped off close to tea, unable to complete the first over of his second spell after delivering the first ball. He could bowl only in the second hour after tea.
The major part of the day belonged to Root who had an average in excess of 100 in six previous Tests against India but had played just one Test prior to today’s game.
He looked unflappable, settling first and then milking the bowling with singles and two runs, and the occasional boundaries.
In the company of Ali, who notched his first plus-50 score against the hosts and ninth overall, Root rebuilt the innings.
Nearing tea, they came close to dislodging Root, but the batsman escaped a referral, the first called for by the home side in the match, after being hit low on the front pad by Yadav.
The not out decision by on-field umpire was reviewed by the Indians but replays showed the ball kissing the leg stump and the original not out decision remained.
Earlier, skipper Virat Kohli rung in bowling changes at both ends in order to break the fourth-wicket stand between Root and Ali, but all came to naught due to diligent batting by the duo.
The hosts’ bowling also appeared quite thin on a track that was easy-paced and easy to bat on. The non-availability for some period of the day of Shami as a bowler, who looked far more impressive than his pace bowling partner Yadav, was a big handicap.
Ashwin, Man of the Series with 27 victims against New Zealand, looked the best of the spinners although he could not get the kind of purchase he got on more helpful tracks against the Kiwis.
Ashwin ended the day with 2 for 108 in 31 overs and was taken for runs mainly in his second-last spell of 10 overs. Jadeja was restrictive at best with figures of 1 for 59 in 21 overs, while Amit Mishra, included as the fifth bowler, did not make much of an impression and went wicket less after bowling 10 overs for 42 runs.
Shami was luckless and went wicket-less too, giving away 31 runs, while Yadav finished the day with 1 for 68 and looked largely wayward. In the first session, Ashwin accounted for the wickets of Hameed, whose dismissal also brought into play the Decision Review System for the first ever time in a Test match played in this country.
Home town boy Jadeja had earlier given India the first break at 47, successfully earning a shout for leg before wicket against England skipper Cook. But thereafter India’s success came down to a trickle, as they tasted it only in the final session after going without a wicket in the middle session.
India went in with five bowlers, including spinner Mishra for the first time since the second Test against the West Indies at Kingston, Jamaica. England capped 19-year-old opening batsman Hameed and, like the hosts, also included three -spin bowlers.