England were given a stark reminder of the challenge of touring India by Rohit Sharma’s classy 161 on day one of the second Test.
Opener Rohit displayed some sparkling strokeplay to help the hosts to 300-6 on an absorbing, entertaining and occasionally bizarre day in Chennai.
After a magnificent victory in the first Test, England suffered the disadvantage of losing the toss and are in line to bat last on a dusty pitch already showing sharp turn and some uneven bounce.
Impressive pace bowler Olly Stone had Shubnam Gill lbw with the ninth ball of the day and India were 86-3 when Moeen Ali bowled a stunned Virat Kohli for a duck.
But Rohit was joined by Ajinkya Rahane, who made a solid 67, for a stand of of 162 that was ended when Rohit top-edged spinner Jack Leach to deep square leg.
That sparked a fightback that England’s perseverance deserved – the tourists took three wickets for 36 runs in the final session.
However, at some point they will be faced with the task of batting themselves into this match against a trio of India spinners that will be afforded plenty of assistance.
Fortunes fluctuate on thrilling day
England were almost faultless in their 227-run win on the same ground in the first Test, but would have been well aware that things were unlikely to have remained straightforward for the rest of the four-Test series.
With conditions and the toss in India’s favour, the hosts were also buoyed by a crowd officially given as 9,000, the first time the England men’s team have played an international in front of spectators in almost a year.
Those in attendance were treated to a masterclass from Rohit, yet perhaps the most memorable moment came when Kohli was bowled by Moeen’s classical off-break.
Driving loosely out of the rough at his fifth ball, Kohli was beaten through the gate and stood bewildered as England celebrated, only departing after replays confirmed the ball had taken the off bail.
With England on top, Rohit and Rahane wrested control and, even after they were dismissed, there was still time for Rishabh Pant to attack the England bowling.
Pant overturned being given caught behind off Joe Root on 22 and his continued presence – he is unbeaten on 33 – is a severe danger to England on the second morning.
Rohit leads India fightback
Rohit is a supremely talented master of the white-ball game but has yet to hit those heights in Test cricket – he had passed fifty only once in his previous five matches.
Here he instantly looked in supreme touch, scoring freely as most of those around him struggled to handle the conditions.
He played drives, sweeps and pulls, dominating a second-wicket stand of 85 with Cheteshwar Pujara and reaching fifty in only 47 balls.
Rohit gloved Leach on 41, only for the ball to drop short of slip, and he was noticeably nervous in the 90s, but these were minor faults in a wonderful innings.
Rahane provided valuable support, mixing sound defence with deft touches and hurrying between the wickets.
Just as they looked to be batting India out of sight, both perished. First, Rohit, who could have been stumped moments earlier if the TV umpire had access to more camera angles, miscued a sweep off Leach to Moeen at deep square leg.
One run later, Rahane – the beneficiary when a review inexplicably failed to detect a glove to short leg – was bowled aiming a guilty swipe at Moeen.
England stick to their task
England once again showed the determination that has brought them three wins on the subcontinent this winter.
Without the rested James Anderson, there were few signs of the reverse swing so expertly exploited in the first Test; Ben Stokes only bowled two overs; and Moeen, playing his first Test since the summer of 2019 in place of Dom Bess, conceded more than four runs an over.
Stone – playing his second Test as a replacement for injured Jofra Archer and bowling at about 90mph all day – made an instant impact, with Gill shouldering arms to an inswinger.
It was Leach who did the bulk of the work, though, probably deserving better figures than 2-78.
With Root looking threatening with his off-breaks – he had Ravichandran Ashwin caught at short leg late on – it may be that England would have been better served finding room for a third frontline slow bowler.
‘It’s playing like a day-five wicket’
Former England captain Michael Vaughan on The Cricket Social: “300 on the first day on any pitch is a good effort. From the first session balls were hitting the surface and exploding. From what I’ve seen today that is playing like a day-five wicket already. I’ve never seen a pitch flatten out when big chunks are taken out of the surface. India are well on top.”
England spinner Jack Leach: “There are balls there on that wicket that are challenging. It got easier when the ball got older and when a partnership gets going you can get a score on the board. We are pleased to get wickets at the end and feel we are still in the game.”