When KL Rahul was picked for the Test squad his place in the side was not guaranteed. Shubman Gill and Rohit Sharma were to face the new ball and place in the middle-order wasn’t available, at least not right away.
But a shin injury ruled out Gill before the start of the series. Mayank Agarwal, the back-up opener, suffered a concussion in the nets and took time off.
Opportunity knocked and Rahul made the most of favourable circumstances in difficult batting conditions.
He made 84 at Nottingham in the rain-truncated Test. On Thursday, he went a step ahead and scored a mature century, a 127 not out, after returning to the Test fold after two years.
This was easily his best long-form innings yet and confirmed his place on the Lord’s Honours Board. Riding on his sixth Test century and Rohit Sharma’s sublimity, India finished the first day of the second Test on 276/3, after being sent in.
In 1990, Graham Gooch’s triple century at this venue deflated India, when Mohammad Azharuddin had opted to field. The next four days will tell if Root must carry Azhar’s repentance. Virat Kohli’s scalp at the fag end of the day will give the England captain some comfort.
Dismissal shouldn’t be the starting point of a batting masterclass, but England needed James Anderson’s mastery to cancel out Rohit’s brilliance. A full house witnessed Anderson’s gem to deny Rohit’s his first overseas hundred.
The Indian opener was in the zone, making batting feel like music with the lightness of touch. It needed a special delivery to get him out and Anderson, who else, came up with it.
About a decade ago, the England fast bowler had dismissed Sachin Tendulkar at Eden Gardens by reversing the reverse. Circa 2021 and nearing middle age, Anderson got the better of Rohit by bowling an inswinger – the ball moving on the shiny side, with the seam pointing towards first slip. It went through the gate to disturb the timber, of a batsman who was batting on 83.
In the first Test, Anderson’s wobbly seam novelty had taken down Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara. Lord’s saw a serious value addition. Anderson accounted for Pujara with an outswinger from wide of the crease, with the batsman playing a little away from his body and pushing at it.
Back to Rohit and he revelled in his discipline, application and flair. He has been a revelation as a Test batsman since his promotion as an opener. The defence is tighter, he plays close to his body and plays late. And yet, he has so much time to play his shots. Mark Wood touched 150kph, but Rohit never looked hurried even on a lively pitch. He hooked a Wood bumper for a six, completely disregarding his dismissal to a similar delivery from Ollie Robinson at Trent Bridge. Rohit refused to eschew his ego. A pull off Wood in front of square bordered on the dismissive.
Shot selection had time and again let him down in Australia, and also in the first Test against England. On Thursday, Rohit was virtually flawless.
He was ready to bide his time and respect the conditions to start with. Rohit scored eight runs off his first 46 balls. His next 37 deliveries yielded 43 to take him to his 13th Test half-century. Once Sam Curran came to bowl, Rohit shifted up a gear with four boundaries in an over. Anderson’s first spell read 8-3-11-0 and Curran’s was 5-1-28-0. That’s where the day started to tilt towards India. Root could be criticised for holding Anderson back for a little too long after lunch. Then again, the veteran quick had a dodgy quad to look after.
Rahul’s batting has been the real positive for India in the first two Tests. For a natural stroke-player like him, it wasn’t easy to play such a patient innings. At one stage, before he danced down the track and hit Moeen Ali over long-off for a six, Rahul had been going at 22 runs off 107 balls. His patience was the need of the hour. Leaving the ball outside the off stump was the hallmark of his batting. Rahul played second fiddle to Rohit and then took the lead after two quick wickets. Shielding Kohli from Anderson before tea attested his maturity. The opening spot is now Rahul’s to lose.
Thanks to Rohit and Rahul, India posted their first century opening partnership at Lord’s in 69 years. In 1952, Vinoo Mankad and Pankaj Roy had 106 to their credit. Today, Rohit and Rahul added 126. Together, they also offset the selection debate – Ishant Sharma over Ravi Ashwin.
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