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Sunday, September 26, 2021

India vs England: Rohit Sharma hits first overseas ton in yo-yo Test

Rohit Sharma's first overseas Test century, Cheteshwar Pujara’s 61 help India wrest back control, end the third day of the fourth Test against England with 171-run lead.

Written by Shamik Chakrabarty |
Updated: September 5, 2021 8:13:57 am
India's Rohit Sharma celebrates scoring a century with teammate Cheteshwar Pujara during the fourth Test against England. (AP)

In his first overseas Test hundred, Rohit Sharma showed dignified restraint. A raised bat to acknowledge the applause, a handshake with Cheteshwar Pujara and a smile, which more than anything else had the relief of breaking the jinx. He has been playing Test cricket since 2013. Eight years and 42 Test matches later, the monkey was finally off his back.

Carried by his century and Pujara’s effervescent 61, the tourists mounted a fightback and two wickets in an over notwithstanding, they finished the day on 270/3, when bad light stopped play. With two days to go, India lead by 171 runs and the ball has started to turn off the footmarks.

A critical analysis will place his 83 in the second Test at Lord’s higher on the list. That came on the first day of a Test, on a fresh pitch, with conditions very lopsided in favour of the fast bowlers.

The third day pitch at the Oval was benign. Old ball barely did anything and Rohit had the lady luck; Joe Burns dropping him twice at the slips. And yet, scoreboard pressure was immense and most importantly from Rohit’s perspective, it was a breakthrough innings.

Spoilt for option, Rohit’s biggest challenge was to resist the temptation. His range allows him to play two to three shots to almost every delivery. The ball wasn’t doing much, England bowlers were getting tired, but India, trailing by 99 runs in the first innings, weren’t out of jail. The opener had to eschew his stroke-play. Rohit revelled in his discipline and the straightness of the bat.

This is his slowest Test hundred that came off 204 balls, a staggering 154 dot balls included. This was a result of five hours and 53 minutes of hard grind before Rohit was eventually done in by the innocuousness of an Ollie Robinson delivery with the second new ball.

The transformation

Rohit’s transformation as a Test batsman since his promotion as an opener has been analysed threadbare in these pages. The team’s batting now revolves around him. When he scores runs, India breathe easy. When he fails, the batting unit loses the plot. In Australia, he saw off the new ball. In the home series against England earlier this year, he was the batting difference between the two sides. In England now, he is India’s highest scorer with 368 runs from four matches. Since his promotion as a Test opener, he has scored 1,462 runs in 16 Tests, including five hundreds.

But even in deadpan defence, Rohit’s batting is music, not numbers. After the tea break, England chose Craig Overton as their enforcer. The medium pacer went around the wicket, packed the leg-side, kept a man in the deep square and another one on the hook, and adopted the short-ball tactic. To one such delivery, Rohit made room, opened the off-side and elegantly pushed it off the back foot towards the long-off boundary for a three. Some of his straight drives were Gavaskar-esque, played on the 42nd anniversary of the great man’s 221 at the Oval.

With his fast bowlers running out of legs, Joe Root turned to Moeen Ali and Rohit welcomed him with an attempted slog-sweep. It made the off-spinner unsure. India couldn’t afford to drop into a shell against the off-spinner. Rohit’s mastery and Pujara’s footwork neutered Moeen. The century, too, came via a six over long-on against the offie, who conceded 63 runs in 15 overs.

Even during the period when Moeen and Root were bowling in tandem, consuming overs for the second new ball to be available, Rohit preferred risk-free cricket. He badly wanted to see off the second new ball as well.

Two quick wickets

Understandably Rohit looked disappointed after getting out. Robinson bowled a loosener with the second new ball to start with, a short of a length delivery that seemed to have sat on the surface. The batsman mistimed his pull and Chris Woakes took the catch at long leg. A glorious 153-run partnership between him and Pujara was broken and as it usually happens after a big partnership, England got another wicket in the same over. Pujara departed close on Rohit’s heels and the hosts were back in the game.

Spare a thought for Pujara though. With a twisted left ankle, he danced down the track to Moeen. Through his cuts, square cuts and back cuts, a falling pull shot and an upper cut off Woakes, he was intent personified. Also, it was heartening the way Pujara tried to give Rohit as much strike as possible once the latter got into the 80s. Partnership batting reigned supreme.

KL Rahul played his part in an 83-run opening stand before a beauty from James Anderson had forced him to edge behind. And once again, Ravindra Jadeja was the Indian team management’s preferred choice at No. 5 ahead of Ajinkya Rahane.

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