Rohit Sharma dictated terms with a brilliant century on day one of India’s second Test against England, who saw Moeen Ali celebrate his comeback by dismissing Virat Kohli with a wonder ball in Chennai.
Rohit piled up 18 fours and two sixes on his way to a free-flowing 161, a wonderful performance that drove the hosts to 300 for six on a dry, spinning pitch that is likely to make batting a hazardous pursuit as the game progresses.
England had started impressively after losing an important toss, reducing the hosts to 86 for three when the returning Moeen floated one out of the hand and ripped it back through the gate to dismiss Kohli for a duck.
The Indian captain’s astonished reaction as he held his ground – briefly unwilling or unable to process his fate – made for a memorable moment, amplified by the stunned silence of the 9,000 fans who provided the country’s first live crowd in more than a year.
But Rohit’s fluent scoring in a stand of 162 with Ajinkya Rahane (67) swung the momentum and set a bar that could prove hard to match on a surface that looks ready to break up dramatically.
Jack Leach eventually ended Rohit’s stay when he picked out deep midwicket with a slog-sweep, but the tourists would have been furious had they not added the scalp of Rahane before the close.
He should have been given out for 66 when the ball hit pad and glove on its way to short-leg, but the decision was rejected on-field then inexplicably turned down on DRS. Television umpire Anil Chaudhary did not even look at the relevant piece of footage, despite captain Joe Root appearing to make a very specific request.
That potential flashpoint lost some of its spice when the expensive Moeen produced another big-spinning beauty to bowl Rahane in the very next over, with England quietly handed back their lost review.
Whatever way you slice it that was some priceless Saturday morning entertainment today.
Big spin, big wickets, big runs, big controversy, BIG fun.
— Rory Dollard (@thervd) February 13, 2021
England had started by naming Olly Stone ahead of Warwickshire team-mate Chris Woakes in the last of four changes to their winning side from the first Test. Stone’s only previous Test appearance had come in the summer of 2019, one game before Moeen last donned his England whites.
The paceman made up for lost time as he struck with his third ball of the day, Shubman Gill plumb lbw after offering no stroke. That was the highlight of Stone’s day but there was plenty to enjoy, as he hit a top speed of 93mph and showed admirable control despite a notable lack of first-class cricket in 2020.
Rohit spent the next 90 minutes squashing England’s optimism, peppering the boundary ropes with drives, cuts and a pitch-perfect array of sweeps off the spinners. When Ben Stokes came on, he even leaned back and hauled him for six over mid-wicket.
He raced to 50 in just 47 balls from a team total of just 60. Rohit was mastering tough conditions at speed but Leach opened up the other end when Cheteshwar Pujara lunged forward and fed Stokes at slip.
That brought Kohli to the middle, where he lasted just five deliveries. After conceding 22 from his first four overs Moeen conjured something special, floating it up and turning it lavishly to beat the drive. Moeen exploded in delight but Kohli was slow to go, perplexed by the manner of his defeat.
The afternoon session saw India consolidate their position, Rohit’s free-flowing knock gearing down to something more methodical as he reached three figures. After scoring his first 80 at better than a run-per-ball before lunch, it took him another 58 deliveries to convert his seventh Test ton.
Rahane grew into his innings as the duo began to grind away at England, with Moeen particularly unable to dry up the scoring after his big breakthrough.
England needed something to break the partnership and Ben Foakes, replacing the rested Jos Buttler, came desperately close to a genius stumping of Rohit. His effort was waved away with unusual haste by Chaudhary but his superb knock was over soon after, swiping Leach to out to Moeen in the deep.
The umpiring was even more remiss when Leach got the better of Rahane, England correctly suspecting a brush off the glove which Chaudhary declined to check.
Rishabh Pant hit a lively 33 not out before stumps, but Root’s off-breaks got England’s sixth of the day when Ravichandran Ashwin pushed to short-leg.