On a day, England inserted India to bat first, the story turned out to be contrastingly different. KL Rahul was sublime to watch and scored one of the most technically accomplished hundreds while Rohit Sharma oozed elegance, putting India in a comfortable position of 276 for 3 against England on the opening day of the second Test on Thursday.
Virat Kohli would certainly thank his stars as it turned out to be a good toss to lose on a good batting track and his openers did what was expected of them. Rohit (83 off 145 balls) led the charge, blending copious amounts of the top-notch defensive game with dollops of grace that set the tone. The duo's approach pushed the English bowlers on the defensive and then left the stage for Rahul (127* off 248 balls) to make it his own.
Rahul, whose innings during the first session and a half were about grit quotient, took charge once Rohit left after the 126-run opening stand. From defending doggedly and scrapping his way to 20 from the first 100-odd deliveries faced, Rahul suddenly gave charge to Moeen Ali, hitting him over long-off for a six and cover-drove James Anderson at the stroke of tea.
The Karnataka batter scored 49 runs in 52 balls on balls between 2 to 6-meter length from the stumps, for which Wood and Robinson had to suffer the maximum wrath. Anything on the pads was flicked in a dominating fashion. Rahul might have returned to the Test set-up after a gap of two years but he never looked in a hurry, adding another 117 runs with skipper Kohli (42 off 103 balls), who also looked like playing himself in before Ollie Robinson got his prized scalp at the fag end of the day with a regulation slip catch.
Rahul has scored five Test hundreds before this but he would certainly cherish this one purely on the basis of how he planned and executed this innings of precision and high calibre. The square drives seemed as if he is still playing in Nottingham and a few of England's fastest bowler Mark Wood's (16-1-66-0) deliveries were caressed to the boundary.
The shot that put his name on the prestigious 'Lord's Honours Board' was a late cut-off Wood towards third-man. As if to celebrate his hundred, there was a picturesque cover drive off Robinson and a back-foot punch off Anderson when the second new ball was taken. In all, Rahul hit 12 fours and a six. However, the story of the day was as much about Rahul as it's about Rohit, who hit 11 boundaries and a six.
It needed a magic delivery from veteran James Anderson, who got a 43-over old Dukes to jag back viciously and literally cut the batsman into half, ending Rohit's dreams of a maiden Test hundred in a SENA country. The art of defending in bowler-friendly Test match conditions is not something one would have associated with Rohit even a few years back but here was a man obsessed about doing well in whites in all conditions. He was ready to shed his ego that any talented batter with such a wide array of strokes would have, and just play the game his team needs him to play.
There is something about his defensive game that is breathtakingly beautiful. There are players if they defend, the dressing room starts shivering that there could be demons in the track but when Rohit defends he brings in a sense of calmness. It was an enticing first hour but the Indian openers displayed impressive technique and, more than anything else, appreciable temperament to tackle Anderson (20-4-52-2) and Robinson's (23-7-47-1) testing new-ball spells.
Anderson bowls two different inswingers without any apparent change of wrist position. The first one with a wobbly seam and the other with an upright seam and fingers widened which looks to be shaping away but nips back in. Both Rohit and Rahul battled their minds to leave most of the deliveries on the 'fourth stump' channel. Both didn't fiddle much with those incoming deliveries and knew where their off-stump was and covered the swing. If Rohit left it alone at times not offering any stroke, Rahul would present a dead bat but keep it close to his body, which ensured that he negated the maximum chance of getting a nick.
The first 10 overs yielded only 11 runs but not for one moment did one feel bored or bogged down. The first boundary came in the 13th over, bowled by Sam Curran. The moment the left-arm seamer drifted on pads, Rohit flicked one behind square for the team's first boundary.
Having done all the hard work during that first hour, Rohit understood the urgency to get a move on in the scoreboard and, in Curran's next over, smashed four boundaries to open the floodgates. Robinson wasn't the same bowler in the post-lunch session as he bowled more inswingers that drifted. Rohit brought up his 50 but the celebrations were muted. Wood, the world's fastest pacer, was brought after lunch but this time Rohit's mistimed pull-shot fetched him a six, and 'Chinese cut' got him a boundary.
The lofted shot in 2014 off Moeen Ali that didn't beat the mid-on fielder and invited a million criticism was executed perfectly in 2021. He would rue missing the 17 runs required for that elusive hundred but the team knows what he did in the bigger context.
(With inputs from PTI)