The 143rd over of the England innings was perhaps the gloomiest for India in the entire match so far, as the tourists crossed the 500-run mark with Ben Stokes batting on triple figures.
No team had been able to breach the 300-run mark in India for more than three years before this series, such had been the dominance of Indian spinners on these conditions. Then came along Alastair Cook and his crew on the back of a disappointing drawn series in Bangladesh. The England batsmen started the series with a bang by putting up a massive first innings total after breaking Virat Kohli's jinx with the coin on home soil.
England were bowled out for 537, thanks mainly to the pace duo of Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav, who dried the runs up for them towards the end of the second session. The visitors seemed to have landed a solid punch on the hosts, one that India would have taken some time to recover from.
However, things were slightly different in the 23 overs that followed after the fall of Zafar Ansari's wicket, which brought the curtains down on England's innings. Gautam Gambhir and Murali Vijay took to the crease at the start of the Indian innings, and the opening duo looked in command for the most part till the end of the day's play.
With the score reading 63/0 at stumps, India have been administered a dose of confidence that had been missing in their system in the opening two days of the series. After his bowlers failed to contain the English batsmen, captain Kohli would have walked out of the stadium in a positive state of mind, hopeful of his batsmen returning the favour to the Englishmen.
The best part of the Indian opening pair's stay at the crease in the last two hours of the day's play was the fact that they seemed to be far more in control than their English counterparts Cook and Haseeb Hameed. They went for the expansive drives against pacers Stuart Broad and Chris Woakes, and rotated the strike with ease against the spin trio of Moeen Ali, Adil Rashid and Ansari.
Gambhir, who made a successful comeback in the Indore Test against New Zealand only after KL Rahul and Shikhar Dhawan were injured, was batting with responsibility, and looked determined to get another big score hopefully to surge ahead of Dhawan in the pecking order. Vijay has not been among runs in India's last two Test campaigns, and will aim to get a big score to reaffirm the reason why selectors consider him a long-term prospect as an opener in the first place.
While there is as much depth in the Indian batting lineup, if not more than that of their opponents, the batting order has seen collapses in recent times once the conditions started working against them. The pitch is expected to assist the batsmen going into the third day, but the Indian openers will have to tread carefully and ensure they come up with a big opening partnership to make the job easier for the rest of the batting order.
Moreover, the Rajkot crowd is expected to throng in larger numbers than the first two days, with the hope of watching local boy Cheteshwar Pujara as well as batting superstar Kohli against the English bowlers. Nothing quite like the quintessential din of Indian venues to pump the batsmen up.
Earlier in the day, Moeen took a single in the third ball of the day to get to the three-figure mark, although he wasn't able to stick around for much longer thereafter. Batting on 117, he misjudged a vicious in-swinger from Shami that sent his off-stump cartwheeling, a beautiful sight for any pacer.
It was a Stokes show all the way till the end of the innings, as the New Zealand-born all-rounder produced a magnificent, boundary-studded show to bring up his fourth Test century and top-score for his side. It was his resilience with the bat that helped his side cross the 500-run mark, one that would serve as a mental boost for the visitors more than anything else. However, the Englishmen were not without their share of luck on Day 2, much as was the case on the opening day.
Umesh, fighting for his place in the Test side while facing intense competition from the likes of Ishant Sharma, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and even Hardik Pandya, was denied two wicket-taking opportunities because of sloppy wicket-keeping by Wriddhiman Saha. On both occasions, it was Stokes — batting in the 60s at that point in time — who was granted extra lives.
There were the usual tough chances put down by the most agile of fielders such as Kohli as well as plenty of missed run-out opportunities that could have otherwise ensured that England folded up for at least 100 runs lesser. All those dropped chances are a thing of the past now, and the Indian fans will desperately look to their batsmen to pull them back into contention in this match.
As Peter Miller suggested in his analysis of the second day's play (from the English point of view), the game seems headed either for a draw or an English win in the remaining days. The Indian batsmen will have to come up with a spectacular display, and then count on their bowlers to produce a turnaround in their second essay, if they hope to prove Miller wrong.
First Published On : Nov 10, 2016 21:06 IST